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Cubans have long risked their lives trying to flee Fidel Castro’s “socialist paradise” for Florida.

Their motive for braving the briny deep, often in un-seaworthy boats: They can no longer bear being ruled by communist creeps who deny them fundamental freedoms.

Starting Saturday, American Diana Nyad, at age 64, risked failing for a fifth time to swim from Cuba to Florida.

What was her motive?

Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, drawing on her own long-distance-swimming experience, gave this answer Tuesday: “It’s the feeling of self-satisfaction, to maintain that high level of conditioning and to be able to achieve your goal.”

Sounds demanding — and rewarding. And Wilson sounded excited that Nyad made it from Havana to Key West on attempt No. 5 Monday — and without a shark cage: “I was not a believer at first, but I was thrilled for her.”

Wilson has reaped ample “self-satisfaction” from her own lengthy swims. Among the vast expanses of water she has crossed via her own power: the English Channel, Long Island Sound and the Strait of Gibraltar. And three years ago she took fewer than seven hours to swim the more than 16 miles from the Interstate 526 bridge over the Wando River around the Charleston peninsula to the I-526 bridge over the Ashley River.

Last September, at 49, Wilson made her longest swim, the 26-mile Molokai Channel between Hawaii’s Oahu and Molokai. It took nearly 21 hours as she overcame strong crosscurrents and swells of up to 10 feet.

Six months later, Wilson, dazed into incoherence and suffering from mild hypothermia, had to give up in the 17-mile Cook Strait between the north and south islands of New Zealand with a mere three miles or so to go.

So, of course, she’s going to try it again next year.

A longer way around


First, though, Wilson plans to swim 25 miles from the Highway 41 bridge over the Wando to the I-526 bridge over the Ashley next month. She estimates an 11-hour tour. She’ll pick a date based on tide and water levels: “This is very meticulously planned.”

Hey, the James Island wife and mother of two has to be a meticulous planner. She not only trains hard and travels the world on swimming challenges, she teaches swimming at MUSC’s Wellness Center. She’s unopposed for a third term on City Council. She’s the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s harpist.

And though Wilson now is 50, she said, “There’s plenty of swimming left in me.”

She clearly has plenty of the personal discipline required for distance swimming: “I take from it the work ethic.”

She lamented the shortage of such resolve these days, and stressed the focus needed “to swim all night and all day and then see the sun set.”

While Wilson’s athletic speciality is distance swimming, she draws continuing inspiration from another sport she followed growing up in the Pittsburgh area: “I take a lot of my cues from Chuck Noll,” who coached her beloved Steelers to four Super Bowl championships.

Yet even we fans of “America’s Team” (the Dallas Cowboys) should share at least a bit of Wilson’s zeal for testing our physical capacities.

Maybe you think you can’t run around the block anymore. Maybe you’re wrong.

This much, however, is for sure: You won’t know if you don’t try. And you need not jump in the water to get wet.

You can simply sweat.

Getting those perspiration juices flowing clears not just your pores but your head.

Maybe you don’t hike, bike, run, swim, surf or engage in other invigorating exertions because you fear other folks will laugh at the sight of you awkwardly going to and fro.

So what if they do?

Who’s mocking whom?


Learn from Wilson’s example. She said she’s used to “being made fun of all the time” for her swimming adventures.

She even revealed that some fellow City Council members subject her to such ridicule.

Hey, they’re just jealous because they know they couldn’t stroke their way from one side of Colonial Lake to the other.

And you don’t have to swim the English Channel, Cook Strait or Shem Creek to reap exercising’s health, attitude and insight benefits.

But before scheduling a long-distance walk from the Isle of Palms side of Breach Inlet to Wild Dunes and back, do some “meticulous planning” of your own on tides.

Otherwise, you might find your return trip blocked by the Atlantic Ocean.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.

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