Princess: Still a long way to go, baby

Alison Berkley Margo
Princess’ Palate

When Diana Nyad came stumbling onto the beach after swimming for 53 hours straight, covering 111 miles from Cuba to Florida, she was greeted by the crowd that had gathered on the beach to cheer her on, but her victory was short-lived.

It seemed that as soon as the 64-year-old marathon swimmer had accomplished her lifelong dream, there were critics trying to knock her down. And of course the media jumped on the story.

So now it’s not, “This woman is 64 and can kick your butt,” but whether she cheated.

Of course she didn’t cheat. Anyone who saw the photos of her when she came out of the water, her face so swollen it looked like she’d just been in the ring with a heavyweight, could plainly see the woman had endured. It’s not like the woman came skipping onto the beach with a glass of champagne and a Red Bull logo on her baseball cap.

Key words here are: “the woman.”

I mean, hello. She swam for 53 hours through two long, dark nights. When was the last time you did anything for 53 hours straight? The only thing I can think of is when I drove with Dina to New York from Aspen, and that was only 36 hours, and we stopped in Cleveland at her Aunt Rhoda’s for the night. And even that was torture.

You’re probably sitting there at Peaches reading this while you wait for your friend who is one minute late (on time by Aspen standards), sipping your latte with almond milk and thinking, “I heard about this story, but why do you care?”

Let me tell why.

In 2000, I suddenly found myself working at Surfer magazine, a job that took me by surprise because I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a surfer. “You got the job by default,” then editor Evan Slater told me. “There weren’t any other candidates.”

It was a dream job, not only because Slater was so good looking that it made me get up a half hour earlier so I could do my hair everyday but because I knew it would be important to female surfers who weren’t getting any coverage in the magazines. The only exposure women were getting at that time were the thong-clad asses that were on full display in the ads by Reef Brazil. It was pretty pathetic.

At some point, Slater left Surfer to take a job at another magazine, and I was stuck with Sam George, an old-school surfer with orange-looking tan skin, a head full of shaggy golden hair, bright blue eyes, an ego that could fill all eight lanes on the 405 Freeway and the delusion that he was still in his 20s and that it was still 1969.

One day, we got into an argument when he wanted to include an image of a gaunt-looking model (who was so clearly not a surfer) posing on the beach. When I protested the appropriateness of that image, he looked at me point blank and said, “Why, because she’s beautiful and you’re not?”

That pretty much summed up my tenure at Surfer and in Southern California in general. I always felt like there should be a sign at the California boarder that says, “You have to be this tall to ride this ride, weigh under 110 pounds, and you must have at least a C-cup, real or store bought.”

What a contrast from my time spent in the mountains and my time as a snowboarder, a sport young enough that the women came up right alongside the men. They were awarded good prize money and excellent sponsorship opportunities, but most of all, they were treated with respect. They were never objectified, only celebrated for their prowess. Their beauty was valued within the context of what they could do on snow. (Go, Gretchen Bleiler!)

So when it comes to record-breaking, it seems the women are up against a little more scrutiny than the men. When men break records, they are typically congratulated and then handed a fat check or a big sponsorship contract. When they cheat, it takes years of blood tests and a confession on Oprah until everyone finally decides it’s time to condemn them.

My friend Jennifer is an open-water swimmer whose passion is swimming out in the middle of the Atlantic or even across it, depending on how you look at it. She doesn’t swim for money or attention or recognition. She does it because she loves being out there in the middle. When you ask her why she isn’t afraid of things like, I don’t know, getting eaten by a shark or drowning or getting separated from the boat, she’ll usually say something glib like, “The problems are on land.”

Like Nyad, her athletic feats and her impressive accomplishments, not only as a pioneer of open-ocean swimming but also as a lifelong endurance athlete, have rarely been rewarded, but put under immediate scrutiny. As soon as she achieves something monumental, she is not praised but put on trial.

Seeing what Nyad went through, including what was essentially an interrogation on live television, at least made me see that at least Jennifer’s challenges weren’t anything personal. I almost wish they were. It kills me to see that despite how far we’ve come, we still have a long way to go, baby.

I look around me, and I see women like Christy Mahon climbing and skiing all of Colorado’s Fourteeners. I see All The Way May running, what, four miles to the hospital to give birth and Catherine hiking the Bowl before going into labor. I see the hot yoga chicks with their long flowing hair and beautiful bodies doing handstands on top of Aspen Mountain with their snowboard strapped to their feet.

And I think thank god, at least in the mountains, it’s indisputable when women are on top.

The Princess is foaming at the mouth in anticipation of ski season. Email your love to