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  • It's the fifth time I stand on this shore,

  • the Cuban shore,

  • looking out at that distant horizon,

  • believing, again,

  • that I'm going to make it

  • all the way across that vast,

  • dangerous wilderness of an ocean.

  • Not only have I tried four times,

  • but the greatest swimmers in the world

  • have been trying since 1950,

  • and it's still never been done.

  • The team is proud of our four attempts.

  • It's an expedition of some 30 people.

  • Bonnie is my best friend and head handler,

  • who somehow summons will,

  • that last drop of will within me, when I think it's gone,

  • after many, many hours and days out there.

  • The shark experts are the best in the world --

  • large predators below.

  • The box jellyfish, the deadliest venom

  • in all of the ocean, is in these waters,

  • and I have come close to dying from them

  • on a previous attempt.

  • The conditions themselves,

  • besides the sheer distance of over 100 miles

  • in the open ocean --

  • the currents and whirling eddies

  • and the Gulf Stream itself, the most unpredictable

  • of all of the planet Earth.

  • And by the way, it's amusing to me that

  • journalists and people before these attempts

  • often ask me,

  • "Well, are you going to go with any boats

  • or any people or anything?"

  • And I'm thinking, what are they imagining?

  • That I'll just sort of do some celestial navigation,

  • and carry a bowie knife in my mouth,

  • and I'll hunt fish and skin them alive and eat them,

  • and maybe drag a desalinization plant

  • behind me for fresh water.

  • (Laughter)

  • Yes, I have a team. (Laughter)

  • And the team is expert, and the team is courageous,

  • and brimming with innovation

  • and scientific discovery,

  • as is true with any major expedition on the planet.

  • And we've been on a journey.

  • And the debate has raged, hasn't it,

  • since the Greeks,

  • of isn't it what it's all about?

  • Isn't life about the journey,

  • not really the destination?

  • And here we've been on this journey,

  • and the truth is, it's been thrilling.

  • We haven't reached that other shore,

  • and still our sense of pride and commitment,

  • unwavering commitment.

  • When I turned 60, the dream was still alive

  • from having tried this in my 20s,

  • and dreamed it and imagined it.

  • The most famous body of water

  • on the Earth today, I imagine, Cuba to Florida.

  • And it was deep. It was deep in my soul.

  • And when I turned 60,

  • it wasn't so much about the athletic accomplishment,

  • it wasn't the ego of "I want to be the first."

  • That's always there and it's undeniable.

  • But it was deeper. It was, how much life is there left?

  • Let's face it, we're all on a one-way street, aren't we,

  • and what are we going to do?

  • What are we going to do as we go forward

  • to have no regrets looking back?

  • And all this past year in training,

  • I had that Teddy Roosevelt quote

  • to paraphrase it, floating around in my brain,

  • and it says, "You go ahead,

  • you go ahead and sit back in your comfortable chair

  • and you be the critic, you be the observer,

  • while the brave one gets in the ring and engages

  • and gets bloody and gets dirty and fails

  • over and over and over again,

  • but yet isn't afraid and isn't timid

  • and lives life in a bold way."

  • And so of course I want to make it across.

  • It is the goal, and I should be so shallow to say

  • that this year, the destination was even sweeter

  • than the journey.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • But the journey itself was worthwhile taking.

  • And at this point, by this summer,

  • everybody -- scientists, sports scientists,

  • endurance experts, neurologists,

  • my own team, Bonnie --

  • said it's impossible.

  • It just simply can't be done, and Bonnie said to me,

  • "But if you're going to take the journey,

  • I'm going to see you through to the end of it,

  • so I'll be there."

  • And now we're there.

  • And as we're looking out, kind of a surreal moment

  • before the first stroke,

  • standing on the rocks at Marina Hemingway,

  • the Cuban flag is flying above,

  • all my team's out in their boats,

  • hands up in the air, "We're here, we're here for you,"

  • Bonnie and I look at each other, and we say,

  • this year, the mantra is --

  • and I've been using it in training --

  • find a way.

  • You have a dream

  • and you have obstacles in front of you, as we all do.

  • None of us ever get through this life

  • without heartache,

  • without turmoil,

  • and if you believe and you have faith

  • and you can get knocked down and get back up again

  • and you believe in perseverance

  • as a great human quality,

  • you find your way, and Bonnie grabbed my shoulders,

  • and she said, "Let's find our way to Florida."

  • And we started, and for the next 53 hours,

  • it was an intense, unforgettable life experience.

  • The highs were high, the awe,

  • I'm not a religious person, but I'll tell you,

  • to be in the azure blue of the Gulf Stream

  • as if, as you're breathing,

  • you're looking down miles and miles and miles,

  • to feel the majesty of this blue planet we live on,

  • it's awe-inspiring.

  • I have a playlist of about 85 songs,

  • and especially in the middle of the night,

  • and that night, because we use no lights --

  • lights attract jellyfish, lights attract sharks,

  • lights attract baitfish that attract sharks,

  • so we go in the pitch black of the night.

  • You've never seen black this black.

  • You can't see the front of your hand,

  • and the people on the boat,

  • Bonnie and my team on the boat,

  • they just hear the slapping of the arms,

  • and they know where I am,

  • because there's no visual at all.

  • And I'm out there kind of tripping out

  • on my little playlist.

  • (Laughter)

  • I've got a tight rubber cap,

  • so I don't hear a thing.

  • I've got goggles and I'm turning my head 50 times a minute,

  • and I'm singing,

  • Imagine there's no heaven

  • doo doo doo doo doo

  • It's easy if you try

  • doo doo doo doo doo

  • And I can sing that song a thousand times in a row.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now there's a talent unto itself.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • And each time I get done with

  • Ooh, you may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one

  • 222.

  • Imagine there's no heaven

  • And when I get through the end of a thousand

  • of John Lennon's "Imagine,"

  • I have swum nine hours and 45 minutes,

  • exactly.

  • And then there are the crises. Of course there are.

  • And the vomiting starts,

  • the seawater, you're not well,

  • you're wearing a jellyfish mask for the ultimate protection.

  • It's difficult to swim in.

  • It's causing abrasions on the inside of the mouth,

  • but the tentacles can't get you.

  • And the hypothermia sets in.

  • The water's 85 degrees, and yet you're losing weight

  • and using calories, and as you come over

  • toward the side of the boat, not allowed to touch it,

  • not allowed to get out,

  • but Bonnie and her team hand me nutrition

  • and asks me what I'm doing, am I all right,

  • I am seeing the Taj Mahal over here.

  • I'm in a very different state,

  • and I'm thinking, wow, I never thought

  • I'd be running into the Taj Mahal out here.

  • It's gorgeous.

  • I mean, how long did it take them to build that?

  • It's just -- So, uh, wooo. (Laughter)

  • And then we kind of have a cardinal rule

  • that I'm never told, really, how far it is,

  • because we don't know how far it is.

  • What's going to happen to you

  • between this point and that point?

  • What's going to happen to the weather

  • and the currents and, God forbid, you're stung

  • when you don't think you could be stung in all this armor,

  • and Bonnie made a decision

  • coming into that third morning

  • that I was suffering

  • and I was hanging on by a thread

  • and she said, "Come here,"

  • and I came close to the boat, and she said,

  • "Look, look out there,"

  • and I saw light, because the day's easier than the night,

  • and I thought we were coming into day,

  • and I saw a stream of white light

  • along the horizon,

  • and I said, "It's going to be morning soon."

  • And she said, "No, those are the lights of Key West."

  • It was 15 more hours,

  • which for most swimmers would be a long time.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • You have no idea how many 15-hour training swims I had done.

  • So here we go, and I somehow, without a decision,

  • went into no counting of strokes

  • and no singing and no quoting Stephen Hawking

  • and the parameters of the universe,

  • I just went into thinking about this dream,

  • and why, and how.

  • And as I said, when I turned 60,

  • it wasn't about that concrete "Can you do it?"

  • That's the everyday machinations.

  • That's the discipline, and it's the preparation,

  • and there's a pride in that.

  • But I decided to think, as I went along, about,

  • the phrase usually is reaching for the stars,

  • and in my case, it's reaching for the horizon.

  • And when you reach for the horizon,

  • as I've proven, you may not get there,

  • but what a tremendous build of character and spirit

  • that you lay down.

  • What a foundation you lay down in reaching

  • for those horizons.

  • And now the shore is coming,

  • and there's just a little part of me that's sad.

  • The epic journey is going to be over.

  • So many people come up to me now and say,

  • "What's next? We love that!

  • That little tracker that was on the computer?

  • When are you going to do the next one? We just can't wait to follow the next one."

  • Well, they were just there for 53 hours,

  • and I was there for years.

  • And so there won't be another epic journey in the ocean.

  • But the point is, and the point was

  • that every day of our lives is epic,

  • and I'll tell you, when I walked up onto that beach,

  • staggered up onto that beach,

  • and I had so many times

  • in a very puffed up ego way,

  • rehearsed what I would say on the beach.

  • When Bonnie thought that

  • the back of my throat was swelling up,

  • and she brought the medical team over to our boat

  • to say that she's really beginning

  • to have trouble breathing.

  • Another 12, 24 hours in the saltwater,

  • the whole thing -- and I just thought