64-year-old completes first Cuba to Florida swim without shark cage

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by JENNIFER KAY / Associated Press

KREM.com

Posted on September 2, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 3 at 6:00 PM

KEY WEST, Florida  -- On the fifth try, U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad has become the first swimmer to complete Cuba-to-Florida swim without a shark cage.

The 64-year-old Nyad stepped ashore in Key West on Monday just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday.
 
As she approached the shore, spectators surrounded her in the water, taking pictures and cheering her on. She swam within a couple dozen feet of the beach and walked on to dry land. She looked dazed and sunburned.
 
It was Nyad's fifth try to complete the approximately 110-mile swim. She tried three times in 2011 and 2012. She had also tried in 1978.

"I am about to swim my last 2 miles in the ocean," Nyad told her 35-member team from the water, according to her website. "This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very very glad to be with you."

Nyad told supporters a silicone mask she wore to protect her face from jellyfish stings caused bruises inside her mouth, making it difficult for her to talk.

Doctors traveling with Nyad were worried about her slurred speech and her breathing, but they didn't intervene, according to Nyad's website.

Nyad's journey began Saturday morning when she jumped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana. She had been swimming the Florida Strait ever since, stopping from time to time for nourishment.

As she closed in on the Key West shores, a couple of hundred people gathered on the beach to watch her make the final leg of the swim.

"I admit there's an ego rush," Nyad said before the swim began. "If I - three days from now, four days from now - am still somehow bringing the arms up and I see the shore ... I am going to have a feeling that no one yet on this planet has ever had."

Nyad, who recently turned 64, tried the swim the Strait three times in 2011 and 2012. She had also tried in 1978.

Her last attempt ended amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and jellyfish stings that left her face puffy and swollen.

This time she wore a full bodysuit, gloves, booties and a mask at night, when jellyfish rise to the surface. Before the swim, she said the kit would slow her down, but she believed it would be effective.

The support team accompanying her had equipment that generates a faint electrical field around her, which was designed to keep sharks at bay. A boat also draged a line in the water to help keep her on course.

Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Strait in 1997 with a shark cage, which besides protection from the predators, has a drafting effect that pulls a swimmer along.

In 2012, Australian Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt. This June, her countrywoman Chloe McCardel made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.

In 1978, Walter Poenisch, an Ohio baker, claimed to have made the swim using flippers and a snorkel. Critics say there was insufficient independent documentation to verify his claim.

Nyad first came to national attention in 1975 when she swam the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in just under eight hours. In 1979 she swam the 102 miles from North Bimini, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Fla., in 27.5 hours.

Nyad is also an author of three books, a motivational speaker and has been a reporter and commentator for NPR.

 
 

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