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Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press
U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, salutes before her swim from Havana, Cuba, to Florida last Saturday,

Ever since the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes observed that there is nothing new under the sun, people from all walks of life have been trying to prove him wrong. It seems that nothing captures the collective imagination more than someone who is able to do something that has never been done before.

Felix Baumgartner thrilled millions when he set the world skydiving record with his 24-mile jump, during which he traveled so fast he broke the sound barrier. And viewers across the globe held their breath as they watched Nik Wallenda walk across a windy gorge near the Grand Canyon on a cable only two inches thick. And last week, many cheered as Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage or swim fins.

There is no denying that all these exploits are remarkable, yet something about Nyad's 53-hour self-propelled aquatic journey from Havana to Key West sets her apart from these other record breakers. True, her triumph lacked the spectacle of death-defying danger that made Baumgartner and Wallenda's displays so compelling, and it wasn't nearly as television friendly as those other two stunts. But Nyad's efforts took place under grueling conditions that demanded unwavering commitment to her task over a much greater length of time. It required a physical and mental tenacity that is almost impossible to fathom.

This would be an incredible feat for anyone of any age, but it becomes even more inspiring when one realizes that Nyad achieved this milestone less than two weeks after her 64th birthday, an age when many of her contemporaries are looking for ways to slow down and retire. In a society that exalts youth and too often discriminates against those who have passed their 40th birthday, Nyad demonstrated that age need not be a barrier to accomplishment.

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In addition, Nyad had tried and failed to make this swim four times previously, dating back 35 years. How many people would have given up after the first attempt, let alone the fourth? That is a strength of will that ought to inspire anyone to recognize that failure need not be a permanent condition, and that persistence, not despair, is the most effective way to deal with setbacks.

This is why we salute Diana Nyad and applaud her for making her goal a reality. In doing so, she showed a level of grit and determination rarely seen in today's cynical world.