As I contemplate what I would like yet to do in my already long life — once again own a horse; travel incognito through Siberia; live in a “family compound” with (at least some of) my seven brothers, sisters, kids and grandkids; — and all sorts of other “experiments” in living that my life became once I realized, at 26, that I really could treat my entire life as an experiment, I marvel at this 64-year-old’s swimmer’s tenacity and grit. Would that the whole human race could bear down this way, and through sheer will and determination, despite failure after failure, finally relax into harmony with our inner lives, with each other, and with the natural world.
September 2, 2013
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad has become the first person to swim from Cuba to the US without a shark cage.
After about 53 hours’ non-stop swimming, the 64-year-old American reached Key West, Florida, escorted by boats and her team of 35 people.
Ms Nyad, who left a Havana yacht club early on Saturday, had vowed this would be her last attempt to cross the 110-mile (177km) wide Florida Straits.
Her four other tries – one in 1978, two in 2011 and one in 2012 – failed.
Ms Nyad walked out of the water on to the beach just before 14:00 local time (18:00 GMT) on Monday.
‘Lifelong dream’A couple of hundred well-wishers were waiting to greet her on the beach, cheering and blowing horns.
The breathless athlete told waiting TV crews: “I have three messages: one is we should never ever give up; two is you are never too old to chase your dreams; and three is it looks like a solitary sport but it is a team.”
“I have to say,” Ms Nyad added, “I’m a little bit out of it right now.”
As well as a bodysuit, gloves and booties, she wore a special silicone mask to protect her face from the jellyfish stings that plagued her last attempt.
She acknowledged beforehand that the kit would slow her down, but believed it would ultimately prove effective.
Ms Nyad’s support team had equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her, which was designed to keep sharks at bay.
US President Barack Obama congratulated her, tweeting: “Never give up on your dreams.”
As she prepared for the home stretch, Ms Nyad stopped swimming briefly to address her support team, according to a blog post on her website.
“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 very glad to be with you.”
Medics had concerns about her slurred speech and breathing but they did not intervene, according to her website.
Ms Nyad’s team guided her through the best route into Key West to avoid dangerous eddies, currents, shipping lanes, reefs and swarms of jellyfish.
The rules of the swim meant she was not allowed to hold on to the support boat at any time. Her team helped to keep her on course and gave her food and water.
During her last attempt in August 2012, Ms Nyad had to be pulled out of the water after 41 hours when a squall and repeated jellyfish stings made it impossible for her to continue.
She first tried to complete the crossing in 1978 with a shark cage.
A second attempt – without a cage – in 2011 had to be called off because of shoulder pain and an asthma attack.
Later the same year, jellyfish stings stopped Ms Nyad’s third bid at the crossing. Her fourth attempt ended in August 2012.
Australian Susie Maroney, who was 22 at the time, successfully swam the Straits in 1997 with a shark cage.
Besides the protection it affords from predators, the structure is said to make the swim itself easier as it creates a drafting effect.
Gliding on ocean currents, the cage enabled Ms Maroney to make the journey in just 25 hours.
In June, Australian endurance swimmer Chloe McCardel tried to make the crossing without a shark cage, but had to give up because of jellyfish stings.