Our Own Diana Nyad

The first triathlon Kent did he crashed a borrowed bike on a steep mountain road and showed up at the finish line with killer scrapes on his thigh and bum. He swam fast (he always swims fast), but he labored through the run on thick legs despite the short course. 

On Friday, he leaves for Las Vegas, 40 pounds lighter and lightyears faster than he was those many years ago, where he'll compete with a select group of athletes from around the country and the world at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. He'll be racing with other badasses like himself, in other words. 

The journey from that small, community-centered triathlon in western North Carolina to an international spectacle has been thrilling to watch. When Diana Nyad walked onto the Key West beach after swimming nearly 53 hours and told the crowd to never give up, I thought of Kent riding alone on a bike trainer in the garage at midnight. When she said you're never to old to chase your dreams and said her dream wouldn't have been possible without her team, I nodded at the truth. 

Kent has sacrificed time with the family and we've sacrificed moments with him in order that he can push his body, test his will, shatter limitations and recreate his own idea of himself. I'm intoxicated by people who tackle the impossible - or what seems like it for a time. Not just the Nyad level feats of derring-do either. I mean, swimming the ocean expanse blows my mind, but I'm energized too by the local chef who is reclaiming his health, dropping pounds and competing in his first triathlon; by the stranger on Twitter who boasted of finishing his first Ironman; by a friend who walked all night for a cause close to her heart; by my yoga teacher who achieved a new pose. 

Their bravery ignites mine. Their perseverance pushes me. Their triumph fuels me to seek bold triumphs of my own. 

Desmond is "the big cheese" at school next week which means he gets to tell the class about himself, show his special treasures and share family photos. In selecting the pictures, he picked ones of himself playing chess, jumping from a rope swing at family camp, playing tetherball. And he picked two photos of Kent - just Kent - competing in Ironman Lake Placid. In July, I got to tick another item off my life list when we watched Kent cross the finish line there. It was an emotional experience and I found myself welled up with tears throughout the day, awed by the strength and beauty of the competitors, by the sheer audacity of swimming 2.4 miles, riding 112 miles over those mountain roads, then running a full marathon. A marathon, for crissakes. 

It wasn't just the competitors, though. I felt the love of all the spectators, all of the loved ones and families like us who helped the competitors make it to the start line in one piece, then cheered them to the finish. Those people leaning over the barricades, screaming their fool heads off for the woman racing past, the ones crying and pumping their fists? I know their story. It's mine. It's Desmond's. 

We won't get to cheer Kent along the course in Las Vegas, but we'll be pulling for him. Our own Diana Nyad.


Everything Falls Into Place

1080p from Dana Damico on Vimeo.


Here's what I've learned after four years of returning home from family camp -- making the movie soothes the heartbreak. 

Van Morrison "Days Like This," Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers


School Starts Soon, For Me Too

In a few weeks, I start a six-month yoga teacher training course that, strangely, falls firmly in my comfort zone and yet also wildly outside it. 

I feel at home on a yoga mat and in yoga studios. I go to a place in my head during practice where most everything and everyone fades and only the sound of my breathing and the teacher's prompts remain. It's not uncommon for me to finish a class and be surprised to see the person next to me for the last hour or 90 minutes was a friend. I typically don't see past my own mat unless I seek out the teacher for help with alignment. 

In other words, I'm in my element as a student. The thought of standing in front of the room, however, terrifies me. I can't help but think about the time I stood in front of a large crowd of friendly faces - neighbors, all - opened my mouth to speak and froze. Another friend stepped in to address whatever it was I was supposed to address.

Yoga teacher friends tell me this is exactly how they felt before they started, but I don't believe them. They seem like naturals, so smooth and at ease. They insist, though. One told me she was so nervous leading her first class she was drenched in sweat before she even started. Another told me she farted in one of the first postures she demonstrated, then fell to the floor in a fit of unstoppable laughter.

I keep telling people that I might not teach once I've completed the course, but I'll definitely enjoy the months of intense study and the opportunity to take my practice deeper. Regardless of whether it's true, it seems like a cop out, doesn't it? I should stop saying it.  


Yoga Fairy

How do you thank someone for an extraordinary gift gifted anonymously?

The owner of my local yoga studio wrote to tell me the other day that my "yoga fairy" struck again. It's the second time in several months the person left a gift for me. A very large, very humbling gift. 

"You are loved," she told me. 

And so I am, I tell myself. 

It's hard for me to accept love. I've built so many walls, you know. So many stupid walls. It used to be nearly impossible for me to accept help too. But then Esme freaked us all out at birth and we were overwhelmed with help - fresh food baskets, phone calls, dog walks. It was the first time I fully saw help and love as two sides of the same coin. I've tried hard ever since to never rebuff gestures of help. It's akin to throwing aside love and I'm not so reckless to realize how lucky I am to have it. 

It strikes me that there's a yoga lesson here to be learned, something along the lines of opening my heart to this surprise gift, accepting it for what it is -- generous, kind, loving. Then paying it forward by throwing as much kindness and love out there as I can. Or something. I'll get this right. 


Anyone else notice the light is changing?


The day after I thought I might drown, I got back in the lake and swam the 1.2-mile course. I feared that if I left it, if I left Lake Placid without doing the famed loop, I'd have created a hang up. One that would loom like a giant stop sign in front of the rest of my life, forcing me to avoid doing the activities I love. 

Mirror Lake is beautiful, only slightly less so than Walden Pond which is heavenly. Sunlight streams through the surface and blinks off a long, metal cable that runs the length of the swim course. My hands churned champagne bubbles as they sliced through water, though not the millions that rise like magic in Walden. Surrounded by tree-covered mountains, it's breathtaking every time you rise to breathe. 

The water was just as cold, maybe colder actually, but the sun was shining, hard. There were more swimmers and the giant numbered Ironman buoys were up. Both gave me comfort and confidence. I realized my panic the day before likely had more to do with fear than cold. I got tripped up on my mind. But not this time. Not entirely, anyway. I walked out of the water after 40 minutes and sat on the beach, thrilled to have the monkey off my back. 

Later, I rode my bike out of town to test the Ironman bike course. It's a 56-mile loop (which the athletes do twice) through scenic towns and open expanses that includes an infamous 5-mile descent not for the nervous. Kent topped 50 mph on it last year, 43 mph this year because it was wet. I thought I'd just ride the brakes and whatever, how bad can it be, I told Kent as I maneuvered my bike out of the hotel room. 


Panic ensued nearly straightaway as I hugged the narrow shoulder against a low rock wall, the only barrier between me and the deadly plunge to an (exquisite) hanging lake below. I feathered my brakes down the entire goddam descent and stopped once to gather my wits for good measure. I didn't go a lick over 20 mph because I was too filled with terror. I'm not talking fear, I'm talking terror!

I cursed every ugly word I could muster and pronounced the descent unfun. The rest of the ride, though? Sheer joy. 

I'm not used to this level of panic, not doing things I enjoy. As I rode, I thought, I'm all for conquering fears, I just wish I didn't have so many. And why does it seem like I have so many more these days?

It wasn't until the drive home from Lake Placid, when I suffered multiple panic attacks including a doozy of one as I was driving the Garden State Parkway that I realized this was chemical. Something was going on in my brain, you know? I pulled into a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike and turned the driving over to Kent. 

A few years ago, when my anxiety wires first tripped toward the extreme and I was diagnosed with premature menopause, I started taking estrogen as well as a regimen of supplements designed to stop the panic: fish oil, B12 and D3. I forgot all of the supplements on this trip. Maybe that's why the anxiety was peaking again.

That's what I thought until I woke this morning for yoga class and realized it was dark -- at 5:30. We're losing light already, summer is fading into autumn and in years past, I've noticed my anxiety levels tick up as the light fades and the season changes. It usually happens more toward the end of August, but it makes as much sense as anything else I can think of. Amazing, isn't it? That our bodies can be so tuned to the world around us. Now, I just need to find a solution. One that allows me to swim, bike and drive safely down a damn highway.