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Women of the World: Diana Nyad inspires women to "never ever give up"

Try to imagine 53 hours with no sleep. If you're like me, it's quite a challenge because I've never gone much beyond the 24-hour mark. I remember a few all-nighters during college when I barely managed to get through my morning classes before going back to my room to crash for the rest of the day, and that was in my early twenties. I'm guessing that if I managed to stay awake for twice that time, or 48 hours, I would be stumbling around zombie-like, if I was on my feet at all. After 53 hours, I would truly have to be a zombie to be walking around.

But just to continue our exercise, let's imagine it's hour 53 and we're still awake, but to make it even more challenging, let's suppose that we've been swimming the entire time. Swimming in a shark-infested ocean, that is, with no solid food and no opportunity to rest, along with one final challenge . . . Imagine you're age 64.

That's what Diana Nyad did earlier this month when she accomplished her lifelong dream of swimming from Cuba to Key West, Florida, a 110-mile stretch of lonely ocean, completing her journey on September 2. Nyad is the first person - man or woman - to make the swim without a shark cage, equipment that most swimmers who have dared the feat in the past judged to be essential.

Nyad's feat amazed and invigorated both women and men around the world after she collapsed on the beach in Key West, all the while encouraging people to follow their dreams, no matter their age. As she was greeted by throngs of well-wishers, she had three messages for everyone. "One is we should never give up. Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team," she told the crowd.

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Nyad's success follows four other unsuccessful attempts, beginning in 1978 when she was 28, and three more recent ones after her sixtieth birthday, beginning from 2010 through 2012. Her determination in pursing her dream, decades after the age when most competitive swimmers would have made the attempt, gives encouragement to throngs of women in particular, who often see the possibility for such successes fading as fast as their job prospects after age 40, especially in an endurance sport like swimming.

Women do have female mentors in the competitive world of poker, where there is, of course, never an age limit. Well-known players like Jennifer Harmon and J.J. Liu are both 48 with earnings over $2 million. Kathy Liebert, at 45, is one of the highest paid women in poker with earnings of over $5 million. PokerStars' own Team Pro Victoria Coren is 41, has lifetime earnings of over $1 million, and was the first woman to win a European Poker Tour event when she won the London Poker Championship in 2006.

There are also other over-40 female mentors, such as Jane Fonda, who recently broke the age barrier when she was signed by Loreal as their oldest ever model spokesperson at age 75. The success of actress and comedian Betty White in recent years is another example. At the age of 91, she is headlining two sitcoms on American television and is a role model for successful aging for legions of women.

Nyad's recent achievement is but the latest of inspiring accomplishments by women, but the fact that she did it at age 64 makes it all the more resonant for women. We look forward to reporting on more of these kinds of stories in the future by successful women of all ages.

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To read more about Vicky Coren, see her bio. And to learn more about the successes of women in poker, along with upcoming events, see the PokerStars Women home page.

For more details on Nyad's historic swim, see this article from ABC News.

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