One early morning this week, with a few minutes to spare, I sat down with a strong coffee to watch Diana Nyad’s TED Talk ‘Never, ever give up.’
For 15 minutes and 35 seconds, Nyad talked about her lifetime goal – swimming an extreme 100-mile swim, with no breaks, from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64.
It’s an incredible story for many reasons: Nyad became the first person in the world to successfully complete the swim; she risked her life swimming against the Gulf Stream, which is filled with sharks and venomous jellyfish; she made four prior attempts and still mustered the strength, courage and willingness to try a fifth time.
What’s perhaps equally as incredible is the amount of work that goes into preparing for the journey, the pre-adventure part of the story that is itself just as much of the journey is the swim. Nyad’s passion for her goal was deep-seated and ultimately unshakeable. She routinely completed 15-hour swims. She trained with the best in many fields to understand the challenges that would face her, and how best to prepare for them.
She didn’t do it alone, either. She had what she describes as an ‘armada’ with her when she went to Cuba. The best and brightest in the fields of athletics, medicine, geology, nutrition. One woman may have physically made that swim from Cuba to Florida, but her lifetime goal wasn’t achieved solo.
For me, this put the concept of ‘teamwork’ in a whole new light. In classrooms, often in order to grade how well you work with others, students get clumped into groups and tasked with completing an assignment together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it breaks down, but it’s four or five equal players, taking an equal stake in the outcome, working to take a project form conception to completion.
Nyad’s team, essential to her success, was different, and feels similar to the type of teamwork that happens in universities on the administrative level. It’s often many people helping one department, or one person’s project. One role or initiative takes precedence, and everyone pulls together to achieve it.
And then things rotate – a different opportunity falls under the oversight of someone else, and people chip in their expertise, resources and time to help.
Of course this happens under an overarching goal set out in a strategic plan. But on a more micro level, the shifting role of teamwork becomes much more dynamic. And most often the goal, or star or Nyad of the team, is the students.
Last week, KPU hosted its annual fashion show, and the teamwork across departments and faculties was inspiring. It’s difficult extrapolate which inputs were the ‘most’ important. and doing so is really unnecessary. Every piece that fit, complemented and supplemented every other piece, together, added up to one fantastic event. The students were the ones on the runway, and at the end of the day, it was the months, even years, of work prior to their success, and the success of the event, that helped create that moment.
Hayley Woodin is Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Media Specialist