KEY WEST, Florida (AP/WJLA) - Cue the applause as a journey most would call “superhuman” comes to an end; 64-year-old endurance swimmer Diana Nyad staggers out of the ocean and onto shore in Key West.
With her lips and tongue swollen, U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad made it to Florida on Monday succeeding in becoming the first person to swim the treacherous waters from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage. Nyad looked exhausted, sunburned and weak, but victorious after completing the 110-mile swim.
“We should never give up,” said Nyad. “You're never too old to chase your dreams.”
She proved that in completing the nearly 53-hour marathon swim from Havana on her fifth try. She first attempted it back in 1978, twice in 2011, and then again in 2012. Her last attempt was cut short as she felt the painful effects of jellyfish stings.
This trip, she used jelly fish repellent cream and a form-fitting mask to protect her face.
Upon arriving onto shore, there was a huge crowd waiting for Nyad, some wading into waist-deep water to cheer her on and watch as she finally realized a dream she has been chasing for decades. Taking those final steps from water to dry land, she thanked her team for helping her get through the swim and was then assisted onto a waiting stretcher.
Doctors who are traveling with a team of Nyad supporters said on Monday that her swollen lips and tongue were causing her speech to be slurred and they were worried about her airways, but they have not intervened, according to a post on Nyad's official website.
Nyad's journey began Saturday morning when she jumped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana. She has been swimming the Florida Strait ever since, stopping from time to time for nourishment.
She had gotten very cold overnight, her team said, so they decided not to stop her to eat and drink in hopes that swimming would keep her warm.
"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.
A 35-person support team accompanied her at sea. Equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her was designed to keep sharks at bay, and a boat dragged a line 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.