As the obesity epidemic and overall sedentary lifestyle continue to cripple the American workforce – drastically increasing health care costs – consider the inspirational words of Diana Nyad. The record-holding swimmer, who accomplished a near-impossible swim from Cuba to Key West, Fla., centers on one key message to help jump start the population: “Never, ever give up.”

“I couldn’t have done it a fingernail faster,” Nyad told the audience of benefit managers and brokers at this year’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Boca Raton, Fla, citing the words she has strived to live her life by without regret – both as a teenager in her swim trials for the Olympic Games and later in life when she transitioned into a marathon swimmer.

In September 2013, Nyad accomplished the unthinkable at age 64 and braved the shark-infested waters, swimming from Cuba to Key West – an epic journey that involved more than 53 hours at sea. Recalling the hallucinations of the grand Taj Mahal she experienced during the swim, Nyad’s physical and emotional strengths were stretched to the limit during the adventure.

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The Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native also completed her goal without a shark cage; the rules of the swim meant there was no touching or assistance from her team and their support boats. Long into what turned out to be a successful crossing, she says she drew special inspiration when she was finally able to see the faint outline of the Florida coast.

“For 35 years, I believed that I was going to see that vision [the shores of Key West], that it was going to be real. Now, mind you, we had 15 hours [left] before we hit the shore,” said Nyad. But when she did hit the white sand on Labor Day, she thanked her team, telling them: “Don’t ever forget that we did this. You’re my team and we made history.”

The more than 100 mile swim from Cuba to Key West, “the Mount Everest of the swimming world,” as she explained it, was something her colleagues always deemed a pipe dream. She first attempted the swim in 1978 and failed, and retired from swimming at age 30.

Nyad opted to take up the Herculean effort again 30 years later, and she had many skeptics. It took five attempts before she approached the shores of Key West last year, aided immeasurably by expert maneuvers she and her team developed to evade the lethal box jellyfish, dehydration and impossible ocean currents.

“There’s nothing new about the power of the human spirit,” Nyad noted, addressing those who said her swim was impossible, and possibly deadly, due to the physical and mental toll it would take.

“When you achieve your dreams, it’s not so much what you get, it’s who you become,” she said. “That’s what I wanted Cuba to be. I wanted to prove to myself that I am a person who doesn’t give up.”

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Holding onto this key message one year later, Nyad explained she is working on a memoir, and will lead a walk of one million people from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016. She hopes to build awareness over the “egregious numbers of obesity, childhood diabetes, heart disease – the things we’ve done to ourselves as a fast-food, sedentary nation,” she said.

But in the end, she told Benefit Forum & Expo conference attendees: “If you want to get the other side, you will find a way.”

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