Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Diana Nyad and Claude Debussy
Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad

On this date in 1949, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (née Sneed) was born in New York City to Lucy Curtis and William Sneed, a stockbroker who died while she was an infant. When she was 3 her mother married Greek land developer Aristotle Nyad and the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Taking her stepfather’s name, Nyad emerged as a swimming sensation. Despite hardships such as sexual abuse by her coach and a less-than-stable household, she won accolades as a high school swimmer. A battle with endocarditis prevented her early Olympic aspirations, but within a year she recuperated and went on to pursue a college degree. She was briefly a pre-medical student at Emory University (expelled for parachuting out of her dormitory window), then earned degrees in English and French as well as Phi Beta Kappa status from Lake Forest College in 1973.

After graduation she resumed her focus on long-distance swimming, setting major records, including swimming around Manhattan in under eight hours in 1975. She set the women’s record for swimming 10 miles across Lake Ontario and subsequently broke a series of distance records at locations such as the Suez Canal, the Nile River and the Caribbean. On Sept. 2, 2013, she accomplished an arduous, 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, unaided by shark cage or fins. In 1978, at age 28, she first attempted the journey from Cuba to Florida but her dream was derailed by unsafe conditions necessitating an unwieldy shark cage.

A year later, after setting a world record for crossing from the Bahamas to Florida, she took a 30-year hiatus from long-distance swimming and worked in broadcast journalism, including on “Wide World of Sports” on ABC and NPR’s “The Savvy Traveler.” In 2011 she decided to reattempt the trip from Cuba to Florida. She tried three more times until finally accomplishing the feat in her fifth attempt at age 64. She attributed her success to mental strength and discipline more than physical stamina. 

Nyad is a multilingual motivational speaker who was honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her books include a memoir, Other Shores (1978). She is “out” about her long-term relationship with a woman. She completed a 48-hour charity swim to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. She was featured in a controversial episode of Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday,” during which she discussed her identity as an atheist in “awe” of the universe and humanity.

I’m not a god person. ... I’m an atheist who’s in awe.

—Nyad on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (Oct. 13, 2013)

Compiled by Yuna Choi; photo by Helga Esteb, Shutterstock.com

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy

On this date in 1862, Achille-Claude Debussy, the originator of "musical impressionism," was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, the oldest of five children. Becoming a student at the Paris Conservatoire at 11 years old, Debussy went on to win the 1884 Prix de Rome. From 1887 on, he spent his life writing musical compositions, rarely performing. His most famous works are "Claire de Lune" and the orchestral "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," based on a poem by his friend Stephene Mallarme. His works included orchestral suites, preludes, a ballet and "Pelléas et Mélisande," his only completed opera.

Debussy married Marie-Rosalie Texier, known as "Lilly," in 1899 but became increasingly irritated by what he saw as her intellectual limitations and lack of musical sensitivity, according to music scholar Robert Orledge. They divorced in 1904, and in 1905 he married Emma Bardac, who had already given birth to his daughter, Claude-Emma.

In 1915 he underwent one of the earliest colostomy operations after a colon cancer diagnosis. His health continued to decline and he died in 1918 during the bombardment of Paris by Germany. “His themes — so frequently taken from Mallarme, Verlaine, Baudelaire, etc., — sufficiently indicated his entire rejection of creeds, and he had a secular funeral.” (Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920.)

Photo: Debussy in 1908 at age 46.

"I do not practise religion in accordance with the sacred rites. I have made mysterious Nature my religion. I do not believe that a man is any nearer to God for being clad in priestly garments, nor that one place in a town is better adapted to meditation than another." 

—Debussy, quoted in "Claude Debussy: His Life and Works" by Léon Vallas (1933)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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