WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
September 2, 2013
At 64 years old, former Pine Crest swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim 110 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
Just before 2 p.m. on Monday among a cheering crowd, Nyad walked out of the water onto Smathers Beach in Key West, pumped her fists and collapsed into her support team’s collective arms after 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds of swimming non-stop.
“This has been my lifelong dream,” said Nyad, sunburned and a little dazed. “Never ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams. It looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”
Nyad was examined by paramedics. Her doctors said her lips and tongue were swollen from the salt water and swimming mask. She also had abrasions in her mouth from her mask.
Thirty-five years after her first attempt, the legendary U.S. distance swimmer ended her historic swim on her fifth and final attempt.
Aussie Susan Maroney was the first and only person to successfully swim across the Florida Straits in 1997 at age 22, but was protected by a shark cage.
Nyad, born in New York City, moved with her family to Fort Lauderdale where she grew up and started swimming seriously in seventh grade. She attended Pine Crest in the mid-1960s where she won three state high school titles in the backstroke. She was introduced to marathon swimming by the late Buck Dawson, former director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Nyad left Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba on Saturday at 8:59:02 a.m. in her final bid to swim across the treacherous Florida Straits. She said before her swim that it would be the “last time” she would attempt to make what seemed to many an impossible dream come true.
At her Friday news conference, she seemed confident that she would succeed this time around.
“The message is be your best self,” Nyad said.
“People who go to Mt. Everest…sometimes it takes them 20 years to make it, after mounting expedition after expedition,” she said. “No one has ever done this before without a shark cage, though people have tried since the 1950s. It’s not enough to be a strong swimmer, you need a lot of luck, too.
“It’s a fine line between having the grace to let go of something you don’t have control over and just can’t beat…and I could be in that place…except I had to ask myself, is there a way? I feel stronger and more prepared then I’ve ever been. It’s a fine line between seeing things are bigger than you are and there’s another fine line, an edge, where you don’t want to ever give up.”
Nyad was monitored by a medical staff of team doctors. She fed every 45 minutes on everything from pasta and peanut butter sandwiches to a smoothie mixture of bananas, peanut butter and honey. The only medication she took was Tylenol for her sore shoulders.
About two miles out from shore, an emotionally-charged Nyad started treading water while she motioned to her team.
“I am about to swim my last two miles in the ocean,” she said. “This is a lifelong dream of mine and I’m very glad to be with you. Some on the team are the most intimate friends of my life and some of you I’ve just met. But I’ll tell you something, you’re a special group. You pulled through, you are pros and have a great heart. So let’s get going so we can have a whopping party.”
Last August Nyad ended her fourth big because of lightning storms and jellyfish stings. Her first attempt was in 1978 when she was just 28 years old.
Nyad is already in the history books. She set an open sea record for both men and women by swimming from the Bahamas to the Florida Keys in 1979, about the same distance as the Cuba-Florida swim but far less dangerous.
Ten support boats assembled around her at the 2.5-mile mark. The beach started filling up with hundreds of curious onlookers, whistling fans and tourists about an hour before she arrived as well as a small flotilla in the waters’ shallow part.
The biggest difference this time around was Nyad wearing a prosthetic mask on her face to ward off jellyfish and their venomous stings. Weather conditions were relatively ideal over the weekend. She ran into rough weather only twice.
“The stars were just aligned,” said one of her supporters.
Nyad was accompanied by a 45-member team, several yachts and kayakers.
“Happy Labor Day has a new meaning when you’ve swum 50 non-stop hours working your mind, body, and spirit to realize your XtremeDream,” her crew tweeted
Tweeted Olympian Melvin Stewart, “Been praying for Diana Nyad on and off for 50 hours now…something tells me I’m one of millions praying for her.”
Stewart later followed with “I haven’t cried over a swim since Michael Phelps went 8-for-8 until today.”
Even President Barack Obama tweeted “Congratulations, never give up on your dreams.”
By 3 p.m., Nyad was trending around the world!!!
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org