This past April I had the opportunity to film long distance ocean swimmer Diana Nyad at the Pepperdine University pool in Malibu, California. My friend and photographer, Budd Riker, and I spent the day shooting Diana for CNN as she obligingly swam lap after lap. Diana was in serious training for a proposed open ocean swim from Havana, Cuba to Florida - a distance of just over 103 miles and one for the record books.
You can read my blog post about that day in Malibu when I first met Diana, a very dedicated and inspiring person to say the least. At the end of the day, we all wished her well and that was that.
Time marches on and now, as we approach July, I find myself again in the company of Diana and her support team as they are in the final stages of preparation for her momentous swim. Diana prefers to swim without the aid of a shark cage, as that is considered a crutch by many swimmers because the cage has a tendency to smooth out the water that the swimmer is moving through. It puts an asterisk next to your name in the record books and Diana would prefer not to have that diminish her feat.
Just a few weeks ago, another ocean swimmer, Penny Palfrey, did a similar swim (but not as far as Diana is planning) from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman Islands. But her accomplishment was completely overshadowed by the fact that her support crew killed three oceanic white tip sharks that apparently came close to her. Oceanic white tip sharks are both dangerous and intensely curious, but their numbers are, like many other sharks, in peril due to international commercial shark fishing.
Diana, wisely made the decision to re-think her shark safety protocols to both ensure her security and to avoid the bad publicity that would ensue if a shark was harmed during her attempt. So the call went out to find a crew who could look after Diana and deal with any curious sharks in a safe and humane manner - and have it documented. And that's where our paths crossed again.
I will be a member of the team, doing underwater filming of Diana and her accompanying flotilla of support vessels for a documentary produced by Tim Wheeler of Documenting Life Productions.
All of us constitute an experienced team dedicated to Diana's safety and the conservation and well-being of sharks - no cowboy shark killers here. In the next week or so, when the water temperature reaches the optimum level Diana requires and the weather reports point to calm seas, then we will all get the call, grab our bags that have been waiting by the front door, and head to the Florida Keys to board boats that will take us to the start of what will prove to be a marvelous adventure - the Xtreme Dream as Diana's website calls it.
Oh, and did I mention that Diana took a 30-year break from endurance swimming and came back to take on this challenge at age sixty-one? Makes one think twice about a lot of the things we whine about in our daily lives.
Check out Diana's website to learn more about her background and where she is today. CNN will be doing live coverage throughout her entire swim - which will last about 60 hours non-stop. If there's a lull in my regular posts, you'll know that I got the call and rushed out the door to be a small part of something very momentous, all due to one woman's determination to set goals that are just outside her reach . . . and reach them.