Day 13- Read 5 Non-fiction Books

# 97- Read 5 Non-fiction books, 1/5

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Last year I was surfing TED talks and happened upon a talk titled Never, Ever Give up.  I watched it and then realized I must be the only person on the planet who hadn’t heard of Diana Nyad. Her TED talk was SO INSPIRING. I watched it a few times. I even bought a bathing suit and goggles and jumped into my unheated pool.

If you are like me and have never heard of Diana Nyad, she is a world class athlete who on September 2, 2013, swam 110.86 miles from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida. It took her 52 hours, 54 minutes, and 18 seconds. This was her fifth attempt at “the Cuba swim”. Her first attempt was three decades earlier. She managed to swim the distance at the age of 64, saying that she was now in the best shape of her life.

A few months ago, I learned that Diana Nyad was going to give a talk. She had written a memoir. A book signing was being held at The Ann and Jerry Moss Theater at the New Roads School in the Herb Alpert Educational Village, in Santa Monica. Marcia Cross, from Desperate Housewives, who is a friend and neighbor of Diana’s, would be interviewing her. I jumped at the chance to see her speak.

IMG_4676-1I was an hour early (not unusual) so I found a comfortable place to perch in the lobby until it was time to be checked-in.

While I was in the lobby I spoke to some fascinating people: an elderly couple who are both triathletes, two friends who had just been to a see a Steve Martin curated exhibit at the Hammer Museum (and oddly enough squeezed past me at the Patty Griffin concert a few weeks later), and a very, very large woman who said she is swimming without shame in the olympic-sized pool at the Rose Bowl. I got to hear all these stories over the course of an hour.

And I’m not even that friendly.

It’s great to be with friends, but sometimes when you want to squeeze all you can out of an adventure, it’s good to be on your own too.

When Diana Nyad arrived at the theater, there were only two of us waiting in the lobby. She stopped to chat and shake hands with us.

I was among the first to be let inside the auditorium. I found a seat right in front and a few moments later a young Australian girl sat down next to me.

She is a young and friendly personal trainer from Venice, named Sasha. She lives with her boyfriend who is a comedian. She said that he is lazy and she ends up writing his sketches half the time. She said that rent in Venice is crazy expensive and her neighbors are a bunch of boisterous night owls who incessantly smoke pot and drunkenly walk their dogs at 3am.

When I told her that my husband would soon be traveling to Australia, she told me about the many creatures in Australia that can kill you.

When I asked her what had motivated her to attend the book signing, she said that Diana Nyad had been a big inspiration to her. Sasha had once been part of an elite tennis team. When she was 15, her team had travelled to Israel to participate in the Maccabiah Games. On July 14, 1997, sixty-four of the athletes were crossing a pedestrian bridge over the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv, when the bridge collapsed. Four people were killed and 60 athletes were injured.

Sasha told me that she underwent 18 surgeries in the six months after the collapse, 13 of them brain surgeries. She said she was in hospital for two years and though she survived her ordeal, her lungs permanently lost 40% of their capacity and she suffered from periodic convulsions. Her parents, who have no other children, never left her bedside.

She said that Diana Nyad’s reputation as a strong female athlete inspires her to get stronger.

Now, she said, she is in Los Angeles for a change of scenery.

She told me about great music events that are held in a small venue of the Grammy Museum. She took my phone and installed the app Bands In Town for me. (This app looks at your music and lets you know when the artists you like are coming to your area. This is how I later found out that Patty Griffin was coming to Los Angeles.)

Sasha said that she attended a show at the Grammy Museum recently and afterwards she was hanging out in the lobby. A man singled her out. He said he was looking for the youngest person in the place because he needed to call an Uber to get himself home and he thought a young person might know how. She helped him. They enjoyed each other’s company and he asked for her email address. When she got home she googled him and it turns out that he is a big time music producer. She said they are emailing each other fifteen times a day and becoming friends. I’m not surprised. She was easy to talk to- excited by life and full of laughter.

I told her that I had just learned to knit the day before and she showed me a loosely knitted scarf that she was wearing. She told me that she bought if from an old lady on the Venice boardwalk who said she had been knitting for decades. The lady said she even used to knit items for Arnold Schwarzenegger to cover all his “man bits” for competitions, back in the 70’s.

Our lovely chat ended and the house lights dimmed.  Diana Nyad expanded on things from her TED talk and touched on subjects from her book. She spoke about the strength of her friendships with Bonnie and Candace, which are to be envied. She introduced other members of the team who were also in the audience. She pointed out her nephew, who is a director and chronicled an earlier Cuba swim attempt on film in the documentary, The Other Shore. I watched it on iTunes, and marveled at the depths of her resolve. You will too. You can also see her talking to Oprah, here.

Marcia Cross was not a great interviewer. She seems like a lovely person, but her attempt to wing the interview was not a good choice. There were long silences and unmemorable questions which crashed and burned and had the bracing impact of, “What’s your favorite color?”

Diana is a gifted linguist. She can sing, she is a master of accents, she speaks several languages, and her ability to craft a story makes her very entertaining. For this reason alone, I would encourage you to buy the audio version of her book. I bought a hard copy while I was at the book signing. She signed it with the word, “Onward,” which had been the call to arms for her team.

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This month I bought the audio version too so that I could read her book while multi-tasking.

When I left the book signing, Sasha was standing in line behind me, uncharacteristically quiet and trembling slightly.

It’s never a small thing to meet your heroes.

352 days to go!

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