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Annotated captions of Diana Nyad: Extreme swimming with the world's most dangerous jellyfish in English

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tedtalks 00:00
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Yeah, so a couple of years ago I was turning 60,

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and I don't like being 60.

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(Laughter)

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And I started grappling

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with this existential angst

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of what little I had done with my life.

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It wasn't the resume

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of breaking this record here,

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it was more like, who had I become?

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How had I spent my valuable time?

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How could this have gone by

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like lightning?

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And I couldn't forgive myself

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for the countless, countless hours

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I had lost

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in negative thought --

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all the time I had spent beating myself up

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for losing my marriage

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and not stopping the sexual abuse when I was a kid

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and career moves

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and this and this and this.

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Just why, why didn't I do it better? Why? Why? Why?

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And then my mother died at 82.

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01:00

And so I starting thinking,

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not only am I not happy with the past,

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now I'm getting choked with,

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"I've only got 22 years left."

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01:09

What am I going to do with this short amount of time

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that's just fleeting?

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And I'm not in the present whatsoever.

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And I decided the remedy to all this malaise

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was going to be

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for me to chase

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01:22

an elevated dream,

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an extreme dream,

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01:27

something that would require

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utter conviction

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and unwavering passion,

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something that would make me

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be my best self

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in every aspect of my life,

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every minute of every day,

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because the dream was so big

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that I couldn't get there

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without that kind of behavior and that kind of conviction.

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01:50

And I decided,

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it was an old dream that was lingering,

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01:54

that was from so many years ago,

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01:56

three decades ago --

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01:58

the only sort of world class swim

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02:01

I had tried and failed at back in my 20s --

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was going from Cuba to Florida.

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It was deep in my imagination.

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No one's ever done it without a shark cage.

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It's daunting.

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It's more than a hundred miles across a difficult passage of ocean.

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It's probably, at my speed, at my age --

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for anybody's speed at anybody's age --

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going to take 60, maybe 70, hours

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of continuous swimming,

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never getting out on the boat.

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02:28

And I started to train.

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02:31

I hadn't swum for 31 years, not a stroke.

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02:34

And I had kept in good shape, but swimming's a whole different animal.

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As a matter of fact,

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this picture is supposed to be me during training.

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It's a smiling face.

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And when you're training for this sport, you are not smiling.

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(Laughter)

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It's an arduous, difficult sport,

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02:50

and I don't remember smiling

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at any time during this sport.

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02:57

As I said, I respect other sports,

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03:00

and I compare this sport sometimes

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to cycling and to mountain climbing

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and other of the expedition type events,

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but this is a sensory deprivation,

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a physical duress.

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03:11

And when I started in

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with the eight hours and the 10 hours and the 12 hours

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and the 14 hours and the 15 hours and the 24-hour swims,

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I knew I had it,

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because I was making it through these.

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And when I said I'm going to go out and do a 15-hour swim,

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and we're coming into the dock after a long day

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and it's now night,

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and we come in and it's 14 hours and 58 minutes

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and I can touch the dock and we're done,

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the trainer says, "That's great.

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03:38

It's 14 hours 58 minutes. Who cares the last two minutes?"

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I say, "No, it's got to be 15 hours,"

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and I swim another minute out and another minute back

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to make the 15 hours.

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And I put together an expedition.

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03:49

It's not that I didn't have help,

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but honestly, I sort of led, I was the team leader.

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03:53

And to get the government permissions,

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03:55

you read in the paper,

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03:57

you think it's easy to get into Cuba everyday?

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04:00

Try going in with an armada like we had

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of 50 people and five boats

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and CNN's crew, etc.

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04:07

The navigation is difficult.

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There's a big river called the Gulf Stream

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that runs across

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and it's not going in the direction you are.

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It's going to the east and you'd like to go north.

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It's tricky.

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And there's dehydration.

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And there's hypothermia.

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And there are sharks.

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And there are all kinds of problems.

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And I gathered together, honestly,

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the world's leading experts in every possible way.

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And a month ago,

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the 23rd of September,

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I stood on that shore

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and I looked across

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to that long, long faraway horizon

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and I asked myself,

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do you have it?

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Are your shoulders ready?

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And they were. They were prepared.

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No stone left unturned.

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04:54

Was the mind ready?

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04:57

You know, you're swimming with the fogged goggles,

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05:00

you're swimming at 60 strokes a minute,

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so you're never really focused on anything, you don't see well.

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05:06

You've got tight bathing caps over your ears

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trying to keep the heat of the head,

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because it's where the hypothermia starts,

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and so you don't hear very well.

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05:16

You're really left alone with your own thoughts.

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05:18

And I had all kinds of counting systems ready there

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in English, followed by German,

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05:24

followed by Spanish, followed by French.

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05:27

You save the French for last.

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05:29

And I had songs, I had a playlist in my head --

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05:31

not through headphones, in my own head --

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of 65 songs.

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05:36

And I couldn't wait to get into the dark in the middle of the night,

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because that's when Neil Young comes out.

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05:42

(Laughter)

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05:44

And it's odd, isn't it?

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05:46

You'd think you'd be singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

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05:48

out in the majesty of the ocean,

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05:51

not songs about heroin addiction in New York City.

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05:54

But no, for some reason

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I couldn't wait to get into the dark of the night

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and be singing,

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06:02

♫ "A heard you knocking at my cellar door ♫

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06:06

♫ I love you baby and I want some more ♫

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06:12

♫ Ooh, ooh, the damage done" ♫

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06:17

(Applause)

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06:19

The night before I started,

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06:22

I finished Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design."

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06:24

And I couldn't wait

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to trip the mind fantastic.

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06:28

About the 50th hour,

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I was going to start thinking about the edge of the universe.

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06:33

Is there an edge?

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Is this an envelope we're living inside of,

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or no, does it go onto infinity in both time and space?

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And there's nothing like swimming for 50 hours in the ocean

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that gets you thinking about things like this.

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06:48

I couldn't wait to prove the athlete I am,

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that nobody else in the world can do this swim.

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06:53

And I knew I could do it.

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06:55

And when I jumped into that water,

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06:58

I yelled in my mother's French, "Courage!"

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07:00

And I started swimming,

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and, oh my God, it was glassy.

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07:04

And we knew it, all 50 people on the boat,

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we all knew this was it,

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07:08

this was our time.

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And I reminded myself a couple hours in,

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you know, the sport is sort of a microcosm of life itself.

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First of all, you're going to hit obstacles.

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And even though you're feeling great at any one moment,

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don't take it for granted, be ready,

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because there's going to be pain, there's going to be suffering.

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07:31

It's not going to feel this good all the way across.

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And I was thinking of the hypothermia

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and maybe some shoulder pain

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and all the other things --

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the vomiting that comes from being in the saltwater.

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You're immersed in the liquid.

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Your body doesn't like the saltwater.

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After a couple of days, three days,

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you tend to rebel

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in a lot of physical ways.

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07:53

But no, two hours in,

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07:56

wham! Never in my life ...

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07:58

I knew there were Portuguese men o' war,

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08:01

all kinds of moon jellies, all kinds of things,

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08:04

but the box jellyfish from the southern oceans

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is not supposed to be in these waters.

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08:09

And I was on fire --

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excruciating, excruciating pain.

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08:14

I don't know if you can still see

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the red line here and up the arm.

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08:19

Evidently, a piece this big of tentacle

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has a hundred-thousand little barbs on it

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and each barb is not just stinging your skin,

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it's sending a venom.

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The most venomous animal that lives in the ocean

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is the box jellyfish.

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And every one of those barbs

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is sending that venom into this central nervous system.

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So first I feel like boiling hot oil,

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I've been dipped in.

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And I'm yelling out, "Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!

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Help me! Somebody help me!"

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And the next thing is paralysis.

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I feel it in the back and then I feel it in the chest up here,

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and I can't breathe.

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And now I'm not swimming with a nice long stroke,

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I'm sort of crabbing it this way.

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09:01

Then come convulsions.

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A young man on our boat is an EMT. He dives in to try to help me.

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He's stung.

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They drag him out on the boat,

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and he's -- evidently, I didn't see any of this -- but lying on the boat

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and giving himself epinephrine shots

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and crying out.

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He's 29 years old,

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very well-built, lean, he's six-foot, five,

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weighs 265 lbs.,

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and he is down.

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09:27

And he is crying and he's yelling to my trainer

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who's trying to help me.

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09:32

And he's saying, "Bonnie, I think I'm going to die.

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09:36

My breath is down to three breaths a minute.

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I need help, and I can't help Diana."

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09:40

So that was at eight o'clock at night.

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09:43

The doctor, medical team from University of Miami

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arrived at five in the morning.

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So I swam through the night,

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and at dawn they got there and they started with prednisone shots.

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I didn't get out,

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but was in the water taking prednisone shots, taking Xanax,

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oxygen to the face.

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It was like an ICU unit

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10:00

in the water.

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10:02

(Laughter)

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And I guess the story is

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that even Navy SEALS who are stung by the box jelly,

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they're done.

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They either die or they quickly get to a hospital.

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And I swam through the night and I swam through the next day.

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And the next night at dusk,

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again, wham!

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The box jelly again --

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all across the neck, all across here.

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10:26

And this time,

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I don't like it, I didn't want to give into it,

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but there's a difference between a non-stop swim

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and a staged swim.

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And I gave in

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to the staged swim.

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10:39

And they got me out and they started again

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with the epinephrine and the prednisone

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and with the oxygen and with everything they had on board.

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10:46

And I got back in.

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And I swam through that night and into the next day.

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And at 41 hours,

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this body couldn't make it.

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10:58

The devastation of those stings

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11:00

had taken the respiratory system down

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so that I couldn't make the progress I wanted.

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11:07

And the dream was crushed.

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11:09

And how odd

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is this intelligent person who put this together

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and got all these world experts together.

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11:16

And I knew about the jellyfish,

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but I was sort of cavalier.

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11:20

A lot of athletes have this, you know,

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sort of invincibility.

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11:27

They should worry about me. I don't worry about them.

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11:29

I'll just swim right through them.

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11:32

We've got benadryl on board. If I get stung, I'll just grin and bear it.

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11:34

Well there was no grin and bearing this.

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11:37

As a matter of fact, the best advice I got

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11:40

was from an elementary school class

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11:43

in the Caribbean.

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11:45

And I was telling these kids, 120 of them --

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11:47

they were all in the school on the gymnasium floor --

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11:49

and I was telling them about the jellyfish

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11:51

and how they're gelatinous

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11:53

and you can't see them at night especially.

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11:56

And they have these

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long 30 to 40 to 50-ft. tentacles.

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12:00

And they do this wrapping.

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12:02

And they can send the poison into the system.

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12:04

And a little kid from the back was like this.

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12:06

And I said, "What's your name?" "Henry."

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12:08

"Henry, what's your question?"

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12:10

He said, "Well, I didn't have a question so much

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12:12

as I had a suggestion."

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12:15

He said, "You know those guys

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12:17

who really believe in what they believe in

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12:19

and so they wear bombs?"

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12:22

And I said, "Well it's odd that you've learned of this

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12:25

as a noble kind of pursuit, but yeah, I know those guys."

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12:27

He said, "That's what you need.

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12:29

You need like a school of fish

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12:32

that would swim in front of you like this."

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12:34

(Laughter)

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12:37

"And when the jellyfish come and they wrap their tentacles around the fish,

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12:39

they're going to be busy with them,

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12:42

and you'll just scoot around."

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12:45

I said, "Oh, it's like a suicide army."

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12:48

He said, "That's what I'm talking about. That's what you need."

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12:50

And little did I know,

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12:52

that you should listen to eight year-olds.

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12:54

And so I started that swim

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12:56

in a bathing suit like normal,

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12:59

and, no joke, this is it; it came from the shark divers.

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13:03

I finished the swim like this.

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13:06

I was swimming with this thing on.

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13:09

That's how scared of the jellyfish I was.

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13:12

So now what do I do?

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13:16

I wouldn't mind

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13:20

if every one of you came up on this stage tonight

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13:23

and told us how you've gotten over the big disappointments of your lives.

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13:25

Because we've all had them, haven't we?

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13:27

We've all had a heartache.

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13:29

And so my journey now

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13:32

is to find some sort of grace

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13:35

in the face of this defeat.

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13:39

And I can look at the journey,

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13:41

not just the destination.

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13:43

I can feel proud. I can stand here in front of you tonight

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13:46

and say I was courageous.

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13:48

Yeah.

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13:53

(Applause)

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13:55

Thank you.

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13:57

And with all sincerity, I can say,

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14:00

I am glad I lived those two years of my life that way,

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14:03

because my goal to not suffer regrets anymore,

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14:05

I got there with that goal.

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14:07

When you live that way, when you live with that kind of passion,

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14:09

there's no time, there's no time for regrets,

tedtalks 14:09
14:11

you're just moving forward.

tedtalks 14:11
14:13

And I want to live every day of the rest of my life that way,

tedtalks 14:13
14:15

swim or no swim.

tedtalks 14:15
14:17

But the difference

tedtalks 14:17
14:19

in accepting this particular defeat

tedtalks 14:19
14:22

is that sometimes,

tedtalks 14:22
14:26

if cancer has won,

tedtalks 14:26
14:29

if there's death and we have no choice,

tedtalks 14:29
14:32

then grace and acceptance

tedtalks 14:32
14:34

are necessary.

tedtalks 14:34
14:36

But that ocean's still there.

tedtalks 14:36
14:38

This hope is still alive.

tedtalks 14:38
14:40

And I don't want to be the crazy woman

tedtalks 14:40
14:43

who does it for years and years and years,

tedtalks 14:43
14:45

and tries and fails and tries and fails and tries and fails,

tedtalks 14:45
14:48

but I can swim from Cuba to Florida,

tedtalks 14:48
14:51

and I will swim from Cuba to Florida.

tedtalks 14:51
14:53

Thank you.

tedtalks 14:53
14:55

Thank you.

tedtalks 14:55
14:58

(Applause)

tedtalks 14:58
15:00

Thank you.

tedtalks 15:00
15:02

(Applause)

tedtalks 15:02
15:04

And so, what after that?

tedtalks 15:04
15:07

Are you going to swim the Atlantic?

tedtalks 15:07
15:09

No, that's the last swim.

tedtalks 15:09
15:12

It's the only swim I'm interested in.

tedtalks 15:12
15:14

But I'm ready.

tedtalks 15:14
15:16

And by the way, a reporter called me the other day

tedtalks 15:16
15:18

and he said he looked on Wikipedia

tedtalks 15:18
15:21

and he said he saw my birthday was August 22nd 1949,

tedtalks 15:21
15:23

and for some odd reason in Wikipedia,

tedtalks 15:23
15:25

they had my death date too.

tedtalks 15:25
15:27

(Laughter)

tedtalks 15:27
15:30

He said, "Did you know you're going to die the same place you were born, New York City,

tedtalks 15:30
15:33

and it's going to be in January of '35?"

tedtalks 15:33
15:35

I said, "Nope. I didn't know."

tedtalks 15:35
15:37

And now I'm going to live to 85.

tedtalks 15:37
15:40

I have three more years than I thought.

tedtalks 15:41
15:43

And so I ask myself,

tedtalks 15:43
15:45

I'm starting to ask myself now,

tedtalks 15:45
15:47

even before this extreme dream

tedtalks 15:47
15:49

gets achieved for me,

tedtalks 15:49
15:51

I'm asking myself,

tedtalks 15:51
15:53

and maybe I can ask you tonight too,

tedtalks 15:53
15:58

to paraphrase the poet

tedtalks 15:58
16:01

Mary Oliver,

tedtalks 16:01
16:05

she says, "So what is it,

tedtalks 16:05
16:08

what is it you're doing,

tedtalks 16:08
16:13

with this one wild and precious life of yours?"

tedtalks 16:14
16:16

Thank you very much.

tedtalks 16:16
16:22

(Applause)

tedtalks 16:22
16:24

Thank you. Thank you.

tedtalks 16:24
16:28

Thank you. Thank you.

tedtalks 16:28
16:33

(Applause)

tedtalks 16:33
16:36

Live it large. Live it large.