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Diana Nyad Makes Historic Swim
On her fifth try, Diana Nyad made history by becoming the first person to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. Her 52-hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 second swim earned the 64-year-old a congratulatory phone call from President Obama—and some welcome rest from a journey that had her fending off sunburn, fatigue and jellyfish.
This was her fifth attempt at the swim having tried three times in 2011 and 2012 and once in 1978.
Nyad swam up to Smathers Beach in Key West just before 2 p.m. EST, about 53 hours after she began her journey in Havana on Saturday.
Surrounded by spectators who'd waded into waist-high water and surrounded her, taking pictures and cheering her on. Nyad said "I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you're never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team."
"I have to say, I'm a little bit out of it right now," Nyad said. She gestured toward her swollen lips, and simply said "seawater."
Her team said she had been slurring her words while she was out in the water. She was on a stretcher on the beach and received an IV before she was taken by ambulance to a hospital.
"I just wanted to get out of the sun," she said.
"More than the athletic feat, she wants to send a message of peace, love, friendship and happiness ... between the people of the United States and Cuba," commented one of the organizers of the swim
Her last try was cut short 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. The new silicone mask caused bruises inside her mouth, making it difficult for her to talk, she told her team when she was about 2 miles from land.
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 around 9am Saturday morning when she jumped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana. She stopped from time to time for nourishment, but she never left the water.
The support team accompanying her had equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her, which was designed to keep sharks at bay. A boat also dragged 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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