Diana Nyad (and me, A.K.): On the Individual Experience of Aging

I’d say 72 is even better than 66. However, here is what I notice:

  1. I don’t have the same absolute amount of energy as I did when younger, however my capacity to channel and direct and discipline what energy I do maintain is way better, stronger. My “physical culture” daily includes a long walk, plus yoga, chi kung, taichi, for a total of about two hours.
  2. Indeed, I feel now that my 15 years of strong addiction to nicotine was there because I needed it to siphon off some of the energy, given that my fiery nature (double Sagittarian, or really, triple, since Mars is also there) is so strong. Even during those years of addiction (26-40), in the morning I would literally spring suddenly from sleep, arise to greet the day. Now I awaken more slowly, lazily.
  3. Now that the tug of “desire” — for anything or anyone, really — has weakened to the point of being almost non-existent, it’s much easier to experience all of life as a wide, sweet, undifferentiated plain. As the poet put it: “Out beyond right and wrong, there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.”
  4. Life becomes more and more interesting, the older I get. Why? Because, as my late husband Jeff used to say (and he only lived to 55!), “there’s so much more to think about.” By which he meant, I think, that the ever differentiating and encompassing circles and cycles of meaning that continuously swim into view present an endless source of amazement.
  5. My dominant state these days (with the exception of the past few days!) is JOY. Unbounded. Free.

Diana Nyad on aging: Why 66 is better than 28

October 21, 2015

by Diana Nyad


I was 64 when I became the first to swim the 110.86 miles from Cuba to Florida, something I failed at when I was 28. The truth is, I am a better athlete in my mid-60s than I was, even as a world champion, in my mid-20s.

The cliche is that we reach our prime in middle age because we are mature; we have found patience and perspective. We recognize that our time is more and more valuable with each fleeting year. We tap into a well of experience and open-mindedness.

All of this is true, but I also believe we can retain our physical vitality into our middle and even older years.

There is no doubt that I am breathing the life force of my prime physical self now, at age 66. I am more resilient. My immune system is a stronger fortress. I can summon a brute strength I never had back in the day. I was a thoroughbred then, more finely tuned but also somewhat fragile. These days I’m more of a Clydesdale, sturdy and stalwart. If you told me I’d be left stranded in the wilderness for many months and could choose at which age I would attempt to survive the ordeal, I’d pick this very age, 66.

Yes, this is a one-way journey we’re all traveling, and it has an endpoint. We have to get real. I can’t pretend I’m not a whole lot closer to the end than ever before. I accept the lines on the face, cartilage thinning in the knees, the breasts riding lower and lower.

What I rail against is the blanket limitations put on us by … whom? Who has done the irrefutable calculations that say we’re too old to work in our professions? Who decrees the assigned ages for productivity and creativity and vitality? I accept the laws of the universe when it comes to aging, but I point-blank refuse to cower in the face of weak and faulty statistics, geared for the masses, that pay little respect to the will and potential of the individual.

I was recently chatting with a couple. The husband happened to mention that he was 54. His wife corrected him to say he was really 55, as his birthday was coming up in two days. He was adamant, all kidding aside: At that moment, he was still 54.

The ultimate irony is that the people most freaked out by the numbers, the wrinkles, the widening of the midsection, waste more of their precious time denying aging than in pursuit of living hard. Think of all the minutes we’ll never get back, the minutes we spent arguing with some stranger that we were not yet 55 but had two more days to go at 54.

This is the crux of it all: We rabidly pursue youth in the name of appearing young. Too many of us aren’t exercising our bodies and carefully contemplating every morsel we put into our mouths so that we can retain our youthful dynamism. We think our value lies in what age we are perceived to be rather than in empirical measurements of how we’re performing and what we’re experiencing.

We baby boomers are lucky. The concepts of middle age and old age are sliding upward. We are feeling feisty at 50 and 60 and 70. At a recent White House Conference on Aging, the central theme was the vast overhaul of assisted-living and nursing home models. The next group moving toward old age is teeming with fierce independence. We are going to radically redefine the golden years.

These days we can reinvent ourselves. We can embrace our “second acts” and be more successful, more spirited, more equipped in all ways, big and small, than we were the first time around. The machine of our youth society dictates that our talents are fading, even our thinking is passe, but ironically it’s that very youth-driven tech culture that can provide us with more avenues of creativity and entrepreneurship than ever before. Trust me, I know we can still dream.

They say age is a state of mind. Age is, of course, a state of body as well. It is up to each of us to live bold, vital days, free from subjugation to the mass, limited interpretations of our respective ages.

What defines my age — my strengths and weaknesses — I insist be left to my own reckoning.

Diana Nyad‘s memoir “Find a Way” was published Tuesday.

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