Wednesday night (10/9/2013) I swam with celebrity endurance swimmer Diana Nyad for fifteen minutes in a specially built 2-lane 40-yard pool in front of Macy's on Herald Square in New York City. (If you do not know who she is - read about her here.)
Nyad was garnering publicity for Proctor and Gamble, who sponsored her 48-hour in pool endurance swim, and she was raising money for Sandy Relief and she was getting a pool-load of promotion for herself. And that is totally okay, in fact it is highly admired part of the American way of life to be an entrepreneur like that.
Now it's not as if I was the only person in the city to swim with her. Richard Simmons and Ryan Lochte and other celebrities and a whole bunch of common people swam with her.
Now you ask, how did I get this swimming honor? Did Diana read my book, "God's Favorite Prayers" and say to her staff, go see if you can convince Rabbi Tzvee to swim with me? Did Ms. Nyad read my essay, "Hudson River Diary" about my swim struggle in the New York Triathlon and feel the need to induce me into yet another swimming challenge?
No and no. I am a common person, not a celebrity. This opportunity came to me in parts by chance, by timing, by the good efforts of my wonderful friend who found out that I could do this and sent me the link to apply and by my love of swimming and by my continued chutzpah.
On the Swim with Diana Application Form it asked and I answered:
Briefly, tell us why would you like to swim in the Nyad #SwimForRelief?:
Diana inspires me. I identify with her dedication. I am a rabbi who swims 1.5 miles every day. I swam in the NYC triathlon in the Hudson this summer. Like Diana, I swam 100 miles this summer too - but it took me all summer.And they wrote back right away that I'm in and gave me a great time-slot in which to swim.
And how did it feel? What was it like to swim with a celebrity at Herald Square? I'm told it was really cool. And it was deemed cool by all objective measures by my friends and family members who came to cheer me on.
But I felt that this was a delightfully strange thing to be doing. And in the pool, when it came my turn, Diana had been swimming for 35 hours. Up close, when I got in and looked at her, she looked really tired. She had just put on some insulating swimwear to keep her warm even though the pool was heated to 82 degrees. The air was 55 and there was a night chill around us.
Before we started to swim on schedule at exactly 8:10 PM, her assistant told her to say hello to me and she did say hello. So I said, "I'm Tzvee." I think she said, I'm Diana, and I said I know that.
She swam really slowly. I had a hard time keeping from swimming ahead of her. Then after one lap of 40 yards, she turned on her back and she started to kick. I did a really slow backstroke. We did this back and forth for 6 or 8 more times. At some point she stopped to get an inhaler from her assistants and they tried to feed her a spoonful of yogurt. I stopped too. I felt it would be rude if I kept swimming while she was pausing.
This was a painstakingly slow swim. And yes. It was cool, like no other event I've ever been in. We raised money for charity. We marketed products. We entertained New York and we continued to promote Diana's story of inspiration - that a 64 year old woman could endure an incredible 100 mile swim.
So that was my so-called-cool Fifteen Minutes of Swim Fame with Diana Nyad.