Dream Big: Life Lessons from Ultra Endurance Athletes

September 4, 2013

What defines a hero? Who inspires us to greatness? In our instant gratification, text message, snap chat, 144 character tweet landscape – where have the pioneers and renegades gone?

I spent this past holiday weekend equally obsessed with two different women–spanning 4 generations–accomplishing the impossible on two different continents. Diana Nyad and Rory Bosio. Never heard of either of them? Not surprising considering the pair has not a flashy Nike sponsorship, Facebook page or twerking scandal between them and in the case of Rory – not even a Wiki entry.

Who are these women?

Diana Nyad is the physical human embodiment of no excuses. She is a 64-year-old American endurance swimmer who has been attempting and failing for almost 4 decades to be the first person to make the 110 mile swim from Cuba to Florida, without the use of fins or a shark cage. She’s made four previous attempts, foiled by deadly Portuguese man–o–war jellyfish, mechanical failure, bad weather and sheer physical exhaustion. Monday morning, she finally made it; 35 years of persistence paid off when Diana, after over 50 hours of open ocean swimming, walked up out of the surf on a beach in Key West, FL to onlookers and a small media contingent. “I have three messages. One is, never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to follow your dreams. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.” After her words to a hushed crowd, Diana was helped to a stretcher and I was clamoring for a Kleenex.

rory bosio ultra runner

Rory Bosio

The Mont Blanc massive traverses France, Italy, and Switzerland, and is home to one of the world’s most elite ultra running events. The 168km The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, or UTMB, is considered by many to be the Superbowl of ultra distance trail running. Rory Bosio, a 28-year-old pediatric emergency nurse from Tahoe, California, came from a near obscurity – in an already obscure sport – to finish 7th overall and smash the previous course record. No woman has ever finished in the top ten at the UTMB before. In a field of over 1,600 runners, with a time of 22hr and 37min, Rory has set the bar for female distance athletes.

In a world of Lance Armstrong, drug testing and scandals, huge sponsorship deals and morally questionable actions by professional athletes in an atmosphere devoid of the true meaning of athleticism, the achievements of these ultra endurance athletes stand out.  Incredible feats of mental fortitude and physical endurance, worlds and disciplines apart, simple people achieving the impossible, not giving up or giving in, not letting age, gender, experience or the status quo define them. There is no Olympic medal, no pay off – there is no red carpet, only achievement for the sake of achievement.  Diana and Rory are a metaphor for life.  Dream big.  Fail and try again and remember you are not in it alone.

More from Misti: Dispatch- Notes from Ethiopia, the Land of Sun, Injera, and Running

Photo: The North Face

Mistina Sayani lives under the shadow of the Canadian Rockies in Calgary, Alberta. An avid downhill skier and ultra marathoner, when she isn’t out in the trails, Misti can be found dreaming up vegan goodies in her urban kitchen or off circling the globe in search of adventure.


always stay inspired!