Swimmer Diana Nyad's New Challenge: To Get Us Walking

After completing her historic Cuba swim, Nyad wants everyone to get healthy. She's got a new initiative almost anyone can do.

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- Posted on Nov 3, 2016

Marathon Swimmer Diana Nyad

Just three years ago, 67 year-old marathon swimmer Diana Nyad made history when she became the first confirmed person to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. Her journey was watched by millions around the world and her bravery and commitment inspired the nation, but when Nyad emerged from the water and took some time to appreciate her accomplishment, she realized there was more she could do.

“The Cuba swim was such a monstrous quest that was within my heart for 35 years,” the swimmer tells Guideposts.org. “But it was very personal.”

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Nyad wanted to do something that would motivate others. She knew she loved to exercise –she and her best friend Bonnie Stoll had been in shape since they were young. She also knew that, while her close circle of friends also loved getting outdoors, competing in Iron Man competitions or running marathons, most Americans were struggling with getting active and maintaining a healthy weight.

According to a study published last year in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, 71% of Americans are overweight or obese.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” Nyad says. “We’ve become a sedentary society.”

Nyad decided to launch a program aimed at helping others reach their full potential. That’s where her new venture, EverWalk Nation comes into play.

The initiative hopes to get people off the couch and hitting the road. Nyad’s goal is to get one million people to sign up for the program by the end of 2017and to have them commit to walking three days a week.

Diana Nyad kicks off Ever Walk Nation with a march from Los Angeles, C.A. to San Diego, C.A. ©Pam Singleton/IMAGE PHOTOGRAPHY LLC

“I don’t care if you walk your dog or if you walk down four blocks to get the newspaper and back. At least say you’re going to walk three days a week,” Nyad says. “We’re going to get people up, away from their desks, their sofas, their cars and make this nation into a rabid group of fanatical walkers.”

The swimmer knows just how transformative the seemingly easy exercise can be.

“When I first started dreaming about this and walking I thought, ‘Oh walking, that’s just for the old and the infirmed,’” she admits. “But if you start walking every day long distances, feet on the ground, knees, hips, abs, you get in some kind of shape.”

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Nyad and Stoll hope to lead a series of long walks across the country over the next five years to raise awareness for the program. They recently kicked off their initiative with a march from Los Angeles to San Diego – treks from Boston to New York City, Philadelphia to Washington D.C., Chicago to St. Louis, Portland to Seattle and Nashville to Atlanta are also scheduled. They hope to end EverWalk in five years with an epic cross country walk from Los Angeles to New York. But more than those boots on the ground adventures, they hope to form something.

“We’re trying to change a culture,” Nyad says. “Go any place around the world – Africa, Asia, South America, Europe – people walk everywhere. You do too. When you go on a trip to France or England, you come back saying, ‘My god, we walked! I haven’t walked that much in years.’ But here, you just don’t. We drive everywhere. You don’t change that by just going out on a one day walk with people.”

Nyad hopes that once EverWalk gets off the ground and gains a following, the program can offer incentives (contests and prizes) to get people to walk and that it can create a virtual community.

Mostly though, Nyad wants her new initiative to remind people to not give up on themselves – to keep moving, keep reaching for new goals and to live life to the fullest – just like she’s been able to do. 

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