Onward Is An Evening Very Well-Spent

Onward Is An Evening Very Well-Spent

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

We have heard the blood-curling screams of people during solo swims and open water swims.

These screams have come, unfortunately, because of injuries, accidents or deaths.

Each of the screams are indelibly etched in our hearts and minds. The circumstances of watching humans writhing in extreme pain are sadly sometimes unavoidable and unexpected out in the open water.

Those screams opened up the most remarkable live show we have ever seen: Onward by Diana Nyad. In the darkened NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, California, Nyad repeated those words that she cried out when box jellyfish initially stung her: “I’m on fire! Get them off me.”

The audience was instantly startled.

Her frantic pleas seemed as real as can be. The echoes of her quivering voice reverberated loudly in the dark theater. The atmosphere of pain seemed to hover over the sell-out crowd. From that point on, Nyad had captured the attention of her audience as effectively as any experienced stage actor can.

As the lights of the theater came on, Nyad’s prone body was shown silhouetted on the stage, swimming and struggling. She suddenly stopped crying out in pain and moved across the barren stage where she stood with wet hair and bare feet.

She then told the story of her life from her childhood memories of her parents, an Egyptian father and French mother bringing her up in southern Florida. She told of instances where her father would suddenly wake her and her siblings up in the middle of the night because he wanted them to observer the solemn beauty of a shoreline accentuated in a full moon. She told of instances of very public failures where even her closest friends and support team members eventually told her that her dreams to swim from Cuba to Florida would not come true.

She made the audience alternatively laugh and shed tears. She sang songs and got the audience to swim with her. She retold childhood memories with the thick accents of her parents. She was brutally honest in replicating many moving instances of her eventful life including how she transitioned from molestations and losses in the pool competitions.

After keeping the audience spell-bound for an hour, a 10-minute break was held where she went horizontal on stage in her swimsuit and replicated her swimming stroke. Few women her age would be as confident and comfortable on a stage, especially while clad in only their swimwear. But she pulled it off well and the intensity of the second-half performance was even greater and more impactful.

While scenes of her failed swims and her support crew loomed on stage left, Nyad kept to her charismatic monologue. She quoted from Twain to Thoreau, expertly weaving their perspectives to her own life. She retold the story why she came back to swimming after 3-decade break.

She quoted Mary Oliver: ‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?‘. And then explained what her plans and perspectives are including her planned cross-country Walk in 2016. She explained her relationship with Bonnie Stoll and how her best friend and trainer was able to keep her motivated and moving. She spoke of her numerous hallucinations while swimming over 30, 40 and 50 hours.

After 90 minutes of intensity, the audience rose in a standing ovation that went on for several minutes. As Nyad walked off the stage, the audience wanted more – and Nyad characteristically gave it to them.

She took a variety of questions from the enraptured audience; a few questions were related to her swimming, but most other questions were related to the myriad experiences she faced during her life.

It was an evening very well spent. Her one-woman stage show will end tonight in North Hollywood and will continue next month in Key West, Florida.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association