Diana Nyad is the picture of health and enthusiasm as she opens the door to her vintage Spanish-style home in a quiet enclave of Los Angeles, immediately walking to a long table in the dining room to show off the photos that will be inserted in her new memoir, Find a Way (Knopf, Oct.). Although some of the images are from Nyad’s childhood and include family photos, most of them document her historic swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013 and feature the dedicated 45-member team who helped her succeed. Nyad was born in New York City, but as a child she moved to Florida, where she was won several state swim championships in high school. She was in college when she began marathon swimming, and a star was born, culminating in the historic swim that she recounts in Find A Way.

Even though it’s barely lunchtime, Nyad says, “I already did seven interviews for the book today.” Find a Way is her first book in decades and clearly the one she is most proud of. “The story [of the successful swim] itself is so extreme and eccentric that when you finish the book, no one is going to want to swim from Cuba to Florida,” Nyad says, stroking the back of her hound dog, Denny. “But what people got from it is what I wanted to get from my life: to feel that you chase a very difficult and elusive star, and, in chasing it, you’re going to be alert and awake and alive, and live all the potential that’s in you.” The brutal 110-mile swim, which she made at the age of 64 (having tried four previous times), made her the inspiration of people all around the world and brought her the kind of recognition usually reserved for rock stars.

When Nyad reached the Florida shore on Labor Day 2013 and stood on Smathers Beach, hundreds of people were waiting for her, most of them in tears. “Those people who were crying for me when I came out of the water—yes, they felt for me and for the story, but they were feeling it for their own lives, like they wanted to do something that made them live by that mantra: you never give up; you find a way to whatever your other shore is,” she says.

The walls of the octagonal study in Nyad’s house are painted with colorful murals, each one depicting scenes of the Cuba she has come to know and love after five swims from its shores and many months of training there. “I’ll always have a heart for Cuba,” she says, “and if I can help those relations [with the U.S.], or help Cuba achieve what it wants, I’ll do it.” Her name is one of many on the list to become the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, although Nyad doubts she will be chosen. “It would have to be a very wealthy person with extremely strong ties to high-end businesses in America,” she says. “But what the educated Cuban people don’t want is for us to go in and build a Hyatt and a Ritz-Carlton so they can work as blackjack dealers and janitors at the casinos. They want schools, farms, and hospitals, not those low-level jobs.”

In Find a Way, Nyad reveals that she was sexually abused by her adoptive father when she was 11, and later on by her high school swim coach. An avowed atheist, Nyad bristles at the idea that some things are just meant to be. “I just can’t get with that,” she says. “No one can convince me that terrible things were just meant to be. But you can only live this life of yours. My life unfortunately had those circumstances, and I refused to believe that there were some lessons in them I had to learn.”

Nyad used to have angry outbursts on a regular basis, and she had one again recently: “I went to heat up some soup in the microwave, and I think I had it on a setting that was too high. The whole ceramic bowl exploded. It ruined the soup and the microwave, and I went into one of those old regressed-anger things, throwing things around, a self-rage tirade. This hadn’t happened in years, but life is not just clean. We don’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m over that, and it’s not a part of me anymore.’ The truth is that it’s less a part of me.”

Following her first attempt at a Cuba-to-Florida swim in 1978, Nyad settled into a 30-year career with ABC’s Wide World of Sports as an announcer and sports journalist. During that time she also honed her skills as a motivational speaker. Fluent in Spanish, French, and Italian, she is now in demand on the lecture circuit. Nyad is intelligently persuasive. When she describes 2016’s “Walk Across America,” her next major challenge, done in partnership with best friend Bonnie Stoll, there already seems to be no question that Nyad will get one million people to walk with her through towns and cities to bring awareness of the obesity epidemic in this country.

“People have walked across America before, but no one has ever taken a million people across the U.S. and turned it into a social movement,” the indefatigable Nyad says. “Come on everybody, let’s get out and walk.” She adds that Michelle Obama will join her on the last five miles of the walk, which will end in Washington, D.C. Nyad dreams of becoming America’s first fitness czar, which, considering her achievements, doesn’t seem far off the mark.

At the heart of Find a Way is the story of Nyad’s struggle to complete the treacherous swim from Cuba to Florida (she’s the only person to have done so). Her team consisted of close friends, as well as nautical technical advisors, all of them skilled sailors and swimmers. Nyad spent a year organizing and planning for the ultimately successful swim, training every day, readying the team and its boat, Voyager, with infinite care and motivation.

Nyad was in the water for nearly 53 hours during the swim, fighting the constant threat of sharks and deadly jellyfish. She was so severely exhausted, especially in the final hours of the journey, that she began to hallucinate. “Right below me is the Yellow Brick Road,” she writes in the book. “I’m intrigued. Then I see... people walking the road. I do a double take because it’s not Dorothy and the cast of characters. It’s the seven Dwarfs trudging along with their little knapsacks. I watch them for a while... and I can hear them, faintly, singing and whistling: ‘Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go.’ ” Her team members pretended to see the dwarfs as well: anything to keep Nyad swimming.

The protective mask Nyad wore did little to mitigate the effects of the salt water she was immersed in for more than two days, which made her lips swell and cut the inside of her mouth. She remembers the agonizing jellyfish stings two years later and writes that she “is still in the throes of post-traumatic stress disorder,” adding, “I shudder every time I step into a hot shower... and wake up some nights screaming, ‘I’m on fire... help me!’ ”

So what drew Nyad to the “seemingly masochistic sport of long-distance swimming” to begin with? In Find a Way, she compares its intense toll on the body and mind to the rhythm of life itself. “The swings up and down during a long day at sea brought into view all the physical and emotional terrain we travel on [our] journey. One hour you’re strong and moving effortlessly across the surface. The next you’re in crisis and digging deep to stay in it. You’re low. You’re on empty. If you can... take one baby step, then another, you are soon climbing back up the next slope of the next mountain.”

Nyad turns 66 this year. “Writing a memoir at this age put my life in order,” she says. “I felt such calm in sifting through the highs, facing the lows. I honestly wouldn’t have cared if anyone ever read it—it was that grand a privilege to pen it. As a general rule, I’d rather live life, and live it large, than stop to contemplate it. But we all need to examine our actions, our inner demons, our true selves, in order to move on to the next chapter as evolved people.”

Nyad is not one to allow defeat to deter her. When she wrote Diana Nyad’s Basic Training for Women in 1981 (Harmony), it seemed poised to become the top-selling exercise book of the year. “A group of us were sitting in Harper’s office in New York City to plan the publicity campaign,” Nyad recalls. “The book is done, the jacket looks great, it’s coming out soon. There’s a knock on the door, and a young woman comes into the room and timidly says, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but my friend who works at Simon & Schuster says that Jane Fonda is coming out with her first exercise book the same day as ours.’ So we sit around in silence, and about 20 seconds later, we all ask, ‘Who in the world would read Jane Fonda for an exercise book, compared to an athlete?’ We had a good laugh. And then a few months later, of course, we got killed.”

The chances of that happening to Find a Way are as small as a grain of sand on the Florida beach that welcomed Nyad back from Cuba in all her glory. The lady shall prevail.