Best Second Act in Sports 2011: Swimmer Diana Nyad
Bio: Open-water endurance swimmer Nyad, 62, braved toxic jellyfish stings and sharks to swim 92 miles in 40 hours in September in the Florida Straits, and set a defiant example of how not to let age interfere with striving for your personal best.
Attitude: "I thought I might even be better at 60 than I was at 30. You have a body that's almost as strong, but you have a much better mind," Nyad tells The New York Times Magazine.
This summer, Nyad twice attempted one of the most grueling, terrifyingly exhausting feats in all of sports -- swimming the 103 miles of open water between Havana and Key West. It's a feat that has been accomplished just once in history. Nyad herself had tried and failed to complete the same swim in 1978, but she was determined to prove that age doesn't matter. On her first attempt in August, she suffered an unexpected asthma attack and was compelled to stop after 29 hours at the 51-mile mark. On her second try in late September, she had the misfortune to suffer multiple stings from a Portuguese Man-of-War, whose toxins cause excruciating pain. Nyad kept swimming and got to within striking distance of Florida before her injured body gave out and her doctor advised that she risked suffering permanent injury if she continued. Even so, by swimming more than 90 miles in 40.5 hours on her second try, Nyad set an unofficial record for endurance by an over-60 swimmer, and improved on her performance from 33 years earlier, when she was at the peak of her career. Nyad and her Xtreme Dream Team mastered the use of Twitter and other social networking tools to attract and interact with supporters before, during and after her marathon swims, bringing the world along in real time. She says she may attempt the swim again in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Alan Moore, 61, college football player
Moore, a placekicker for Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., is not only the oldest college football player on record, but probably the first to have five grandchildren cheering for him in the stands. He's proven that it's possible for an aging athlete to excel at a contact sport and to demonstrate a similar degree of skill to what he had decades earlier. Moore started his college football career in 1968, when he was a freshman kicker for a community college in Mississippi. But he had to leave school and football behind to serve in Vietnam, and after his return, he began a 37-year career in construction. After he was laid off in 2009, Moore retired to Florida, but when he attended a football game at his alma mater, he got the itch to see if he could do better than the team's twentysomething kicker, and set up an improvised goalpost in his daughter's backyard. The next season, a coach at Holmes Community College in Mississippi let him come out for the team, and he did well enough to continue his playing career at a four-year school.
Honorable Mention: Darren Clarke, 42, golfer
A native of Northern Ireland, Clarke was ranked a humble 111th in the world among pro golfers and was a 170-to-1 longshot in this year's British Open. To everyone's shock, he won the event at the age of 42 years and 337 days, making him one of the oldest golfers ever to take a major championship. Clarke, who describes himself as a "normal guy playing golf, having a bit of fun," received a $1.45 million prize, in addition to a $3 million endorsement bonus from golf-gear manufacturer Dunlop. "It still hasn't sunk in yet," Clarke told The New York Times. "I've looked at the trophy all night and sort of semi-figured out it's mine. Nice to be, as you say, Open champion."
Honorable Mention: Dara Torres, 44, Olympic swimmer
After Torres underwent a major operation in 2010 to repair a severely arthritic knee, she was certainly entitled to rest on her already-awesome laurels (three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where at 41 she became the oldest swimming medalist in history). Instead, she's spent the past year rehabilitating her damaged limb and regaining her swimming prowess, with an eye to accomplishing an even more ambitious goal: making the U.S. Olympic swimming team one more time and winning more medals at the 2012 games in London at age 45. In a preparatory race at the U.S. Winter Nationals, Torres finished second in the 50-meter freestyle final -- just two tenths of a second behind Jessica Hardy, who's nearly two decades younger. Her attitude: "One thing I know for sure: The water doesn't know how old you are."
Honorable Mention: Harry Grimm, 57, martial arts expert and instructor
Grimm, a longtime practitioner and instructor in Kenpo karate, is eager to persuade fellow baby boomers that it's never too late to earn a black belt. After moving from Massachusetts to Naples, Fla., Grimm started Bucket List Martial Arts, a school for karate and self-defense students 45 and older. He's devised a 45-minute, twice-a-week class that teaches real martial arts moves -- not that cardio kickboxing stuff -- at a pace and intensity level geared toward middle-aged beginners. Grimm is part of a movement to make martial arts a lifetime pursuit. "It helps with balance and coordination, and improves range of motion -- and things that we're supposed to be working to maintain as we get older," he says.
Keep reading: The Best Second Acts Awards 2011
Day 1: Best Second Act in Sports 2011: Swimmer Diana Nyad
Day 2: Best Celebrity Second Act 2011: Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen
Day 3: Best Creative Second Act 2011: Poet Kay Ryan
Day 4: Best Second Act Comeback 2011: Entrepreneur Brad Gruno
Day 5: Most Inspirational Second Act 2011: Grad Student Allyson Reneau
Day 6: Best Second Act Making A Difference 2011: Judith Broder
Day 7: Best Second Act Reinvention 2011: E-book Author John Locke
Day 8: Best Second Act Game-Changer 2011: Room to Read's John Wood