The Beauty and Brilliance of Never Giving Up

A recap of a panel discussion with Cheryl Strayed and Diana Nyad

Earlier this month I made a date with myself to travel to the Connecticut Forum for the sold-out Explorers and Adventurers: Pushing the Limits of Human Potential, a panel discussion featuring two incredibly badass women who I’ve drawn tremendous inspiration from, Cheryl Strayed and Diana Nyad. They spoke candidly about their upbringing, hardships, and the many moments in their adventures when they thought about giving up, asking themselves "is this worth it?" ...it was such a beautifully raw and powerful testament to the human spirit, and I left feeling as if I was brimming over with hope.

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There was also a world-renowned National Geographic wildlife photojournalist on the panel, Paul Nicklen, who has faced the most extreme conditions, rubbing shoulders with fate on numerous occasions, and has endured incredibly painstaking tests of the human spirit to capture his life's work - a true testament of persistence, heart, and dedication. For the purpose of this Lady Project article I’m focusing just on Cheryl and Diana, but be sure and check out his incredible work here if you want to be completely WOWed!

After mingling for about an hour with lots of open, like-minded attendees (talking intently with a stranger about our shared wonderment of the night sky in the middle of the Utah desert, picking the brain of a woman about the same age as me who has dedicated her life's work to researching marine mammal behavior, listening to a woman in her 50's tell me about her deep-rooted love for scuba diving) the panel began. Intently hooked in from the beginning, I began furiously scribbling pages and pages of notes. Later as I looked back on them, I realized the quotes I had gathered were worth sharing with others.

In this post, I've plucked out some of my favorite quotes from the night, “nuggets of gold” that I found inspiring. I hope you find a similar sense of hope, wonder and inspiration from reading them and that perhaps the words of these warrior women might invigorate you to go do something that scares you! I especially loved what Diana had to say about age, and how she's absolutely killing it and in her prime at 65!!!

Background on the panelists:

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Cheryl is the author of the #1 NY Times best seller, Wild. She travelled over 1,100 on the Pacific Crest Trail at age 26 having very little experience hiking.  “It was years later that I understood that this was something worth telling. In telling my own story, I wanted to say something about what it means to be 'that person' - how do you keep walking when every step hurts?” -I read Cheryl's book when it first came out, and I am certain that it influenced my decision to go on my fear-crushing wilderness adventure of a lifetime this past summer.

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Diana is a true testament to the power of the human spirit. Having publicly failed four times before, her incredible persistence paid off when she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida in open sea, without the use of shark tank. She swam for 52 hours straight,  facing venomous jellyfish stings, turbulent weather and a very real possibility of being a snack for a shark - all at age 64!  She has a book is coming out this October that I can’t wait to read, and she has a lot of other exciting plans ahead. She’s also been doing a lot of public speaking, and if you ever have a chance to see her in person, don’t hesitate!!

Oh, and did I mention she can hold a plank for TWO HOURS?!

Now, on to the gold:

What’s something you didn’t know your mind/body could do?

C: Most of us recoil at discomfort. I tried mental tricks to get my mind off the pain… and what I learned was the way we talk to ourselves defines the way we are in the world.

D: I don’t believe in the limitations society puts on us - whether its gender, age, etc.

D: I am a better athlete in every way now that I’m older… and I truly believe that us 60 year olds are in the dead center prime of our lives.

D: I’m not afraid of the sharks, but I am afraid of failing. [I learned that] the only way you’ll fail is if you give up. 

How has solitude helped you accomplish what you have?

C: [Solitude is] an ancient, primal need that is under recognized. It’s a right of passage.

I was suffering, and needed to learn how to grow up. I need to deprive myself of company, comforts and the familiar… essentially enacting an ancient ritual. I wasn’t escaping life, but in fact going more deeply into life. Nature allows us to remember how very connected we are. I didn’t feel lonely.

D: [Solitude helped me better understand our] connection to this beautiful jewel of a planet. The euphoria of swimming over the curvature of the earth…. the intoxication of being a part of humanity and having the privilege of doing something this extreme. This accomplishment was 35 years of training… my job now is to live that passion, and I’m here to live it big!

What advice would you give to your 26 year old self?

D: When you’re 26, you’re so hungry to succeed. Be nice to everyone on the way up. You can be authentic, real, humble, kind, and passionate, and still reach the same goals.

And it’s not just about being happy with the end goal, but embracing all the ups and downs. Embracing the downs makes the ups so much better.

[When I was younger I spent] too much time in the past and the future. Today I’m much more involved in the passion of every moment.

A few other nuggets of gold:

C: Isn’t it a great feeling when you don’t quit? You have to take that next step even if it hurts. That’s such a metaphor.

D: When each of us seeks our potential, it inspires and makes the world a better place.

D: I stand here as someone who refuses to let this one wild and precious life quietly slip by.

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I have many more snippets in my journal if anyone is interested in seeing them!

Not only was the panel itself immensely inspiring and validating of my own struggles, fears, hopes and dreams as I become more and more conscientious about blazing my own trail... but the opportunity to connect with other people in attendance, complete strangers, on such a heartfelt level, was truly awesome. And I'm so grateful for the opportunity to spend time in the same room with these incredibly tenacious, accomplished, courageous, compassionate women who I’ve looked up to from a distance for so long. And while I didn't win a chance to meet them backstage, just being in the same room with them and hearing them speak so passionately made this easily one of my favorite events of the year so far!

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Author: Joanna Read

[All photos credited to The Connecticut Forum]