Diana Nyad was 8 when she first got the idea of swimming from Cuba to Florida. At that time, she was in Cuba on a trip from her home in Florida in the 1950s, beforeled a band of ragtag revolutionaries in a Communist takeover. That was in 1957-58. After 1959, Cuban-American relations have been nonexistent.
CNN reports that it was in 1978 at the age of 29 when Nyad made her first attempt to swim the Florida Straits (without a shark cage). She failed then and on each of the following four attempts. Her failures had been caused by essentially the same problems and issues each time – rough seas and strength-sapping currents, relentless jellyfish stings and, unbelievably, asthma attacks.
But, as the Washington Post reports, this time, on Monday, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage, arriving at a Key West beach just before 2 pm EDT.
She had dived into the ocean in Havana nearly 53 hours earlier. And, for the now 64-year-old woman, the fifth try in 35 years was the charm.
As Nyad walked – dragged – herself out of the water and onto US soil, she pumped her fist and held a watery press conference of sorts
"I got three messages," an exhausted and happy Nyad told reporters.
"One is we should never ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team," she said.
The beach was crowded with dozens of onlookers and supporters – many floating in kayaks and boats, others wading in the shallows or standing on shore. They all cheered and applauded Nyad as she completed the record-breaking, 103-mile swim.
As stated, this was her fourth try since she turned 60. This time she wore a special suit designed to ward off jellyfish, and a mask to protect her mouth and tongue from the slimy slippery creatures. It was the jellyfish which contributed most to her failure just last year, according to the New York Times.
Despite her preparations against the jellies, this time she did not encounter as many as usual – but they were there, of course.
At 2 1/2 miles from shore, she paused and treaded water. Her “press conference” really began then:
"This is a lifelong dream of mine, and I'm very, very glad to be with you," she said late Monday morning, thanking her team on the five boats gathered around her, according to the team's website.
"You pulled through; you are pros and have a great heart. So let's get going so we can have a whopping party," she said.
When asked about her rather advanced age for embarking upon such a feat, a feat usually reserved for much younger folks, Nyad insisted that, "[Y]ou can dream at any age. This time, I am 64. So, the years of my life are shorter to the end," she said at a news conference in Havana on Friday just before taking the plunge. "So this time I am, all the way across ... going to think about all those life lessons that came up during the swim."
It was sheer fatigue, however, that almost derailed her this trip, according to Yahoo News. At approximately 7:30 a.m. today, she was slurring her speech because her tongue and lips had become swollen because of the salt in the sea water, according to her support team's website.
She had been scheduled to be fed at dawn, but she took longer than normal to reach the support boat, according to the report.
Divers swam ahead of her, collecting and removing jellyfish from her path. When it was cleared, she was told to follow the path to the boat, but she demurred: "I've never been able to follow it [instruction] in my life," she said.
And it was just last night that she became so cold that it appeared she might not make it once again. But, the team chose not to feed her until daylight "in the hopes that swimming would keep her warm," the website said. (She ate mostly electrolyte-packed nutrients and liquids throughout the swim).
On Sunday night, she surpassed Penny Palfrey's record for the farthest anyone has managed sans a shark cage. (Palfrey ultimately failed, though).
In 1997, Australian Susie Maroney did complete the swim but from within the safety of a shark cage. And, Maroney was an asthma-free 22-years-old at the time.
Nyad did have a team of divers who preceded and followed her in shifts – on the lookout for the ravenous beasts.
As stated, Nyad tried crossing the Straits of Florida back in 1978. She was turned back by rough seas which rendered her delirious and battered less than halfway across.
In 2011, she twice tried but suffered an 11-hour asthma attack and ferocious jellyfish stings.
And, again, it was just last year that she had to abandon her fourth attempt at about halfway, again due to severe jellyfish stings added to a lightening storm.
Who is Diana Nyad? She was already a swimming phenom even before she tried the run from Cuba to Florida. Indeed, in the 1970s, she won multiple swimming marathons. She was among the first women to swim completely around the island of Manhattan.
Nyad is from Los Angeles these days, and said before this finally successful attempt that it would be her last.
Did you catch any of the Discovery Channel's “Shark Week” programs last month? Chilling.
This is either one of the most courageous people on the planet – or one of the most foolhardy.
I just simply cannot imagine taking such obvious risks. I recall that when I served in the US Navy, we (boatswain's mates and mess-men) would stand on the ship's fantail after throwing our garbage overboard. We watched in amazement as sometimes dozens of ferocious, ravenous, sharks went into their famous "frenzy" as they tore into our refuse. These creatures had learned, apparently, to follow big ships all the way across the Pacific waiting for free meals. We eventually began to even recognize (and name) individual sharks, mainly by their battlescars: "Big Blue," "Fast Eddie," "Merciless Mona," "Greedy Gary," etc.
Once, in the mid 1970s, we sailed into San Francisco Bay after 19 days at sea. An unfortunate sailor (whom I knew) fell overboard. The ship behind us put its rescue boats into the water in order to pick him up (because it normally took us more than 30 minutes to stop or turn around).
The men in those boats used M-16s to shoot the many sharks away from the stricken sailor and their own boats as they tried to reach him. When they finally did get to him, he was like a cork bobbing up and down in an ever-widening, dark red pool of blood – legless and quite dead.
So Nyad's feat here is all the more amazing.
But, after 35 years of trying, and for whatever it may be worth, she got the record.