Endurance swimming champion Diana Nyad dove off the Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba at 8:59 a.m. ET to start her fifth attempt to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, as Gayle Falkenthal reports for The Washington Times.
Nyad, who turned 64 one week ago, will swim 80 hours braving weather, waves, sharks, and stinging jellyfish, as well as her own physical and mental limits.
After her fourth attempt ended on August 21 last year after 63 hours of swimming when a fierce storm stopped what she calls the “Xtreme Dream,” Nyad said at the time “This has to be it, it just has to be.” But she’d also said she wouldn’t try again after her third attempt.
As she made her way to the beach, Nyad said, “My adrenaline is pumping very hard,” she said. “Which means in one half I’m excited. I did all the training. The body is ready. My mind is ready. On the other hand, I admit I’m scared.”
Nyad stepped up to the shore and shouted out to her Xtreme Dream team already on the support boats waiting for her to enter the water, “Thank you. Thank you for everything. Let’s make it all the way!”
Nyad took off her white robe, yelled out the single word “Courage!” (with a French pronunciation), and jumped into the water for the start of her swim to Key West as American and Cuban flags waved in the breeze.
As of 1:45 p.m. ET, Nyad had travelled 7.05 statute miles and is traveling at an average speed of two miles per hour. Her team reports on her blog this is at the high end of her speed range. The currents are neither helping or hurting her at this time.
Nobody has done this swim before despite numerous attempts since the 1950s. Nyad has been fixed on this dream for 36 years. After failing to complete the swim last year, she considered other challenges. But she said her heart wasn’t in it. “My heart is with THIS swim, from Cuba to Florida, and there is a part of me that doesn’t ever, ever want to give up. This dream is alive.”
The biggest challenge for Nyad other than avoiding bad weather has been jellyfish stings. Protecting Nyad from the deadly jellyfish has been the missing piece. In 2012, Nyad endured multiple jellyfish stings on her lips, forehead, hands, and neck despite using a a protective body suit and treatments for the inevitable stings.
Nyad worked this year with a prosthetics specialist to build a silicone mask that will allow her to swim through the stinging tentacles without being affected and still breathe. Nyad wrote on her blog that using the mask is “cumbersome,” takes more energy and slows her down. “But I simply need to remember, when enduring the difficulty of the mask, that it protects me from stings … No other way,” said Nyad. The rules of the sport prohibit the use of neoprene.
At 2:40 p.m. ET, the captain of support vessel “Dreams Do Come True” identified an unknown jellyfish 40 feet off the starboard side. Jellyfish expert Angel Yanagihara went out in a boat to inspect the creature. It appeared to be a solitary jellyfish and it did not cross Nyad’s path.
Nyad swam almost the same number of hours in her first attempt at the crossing in 1978 at age 29 as she did in 2012, but she swam farther and got closer to Key West last time.
Can Nyad make it this time? As she wrote just prior to leaving for Cuba, “Nobody on this Earth knows what this body, nor this mind, is going to experience, once we’re 50, 60, 70 hours in. I have a strong will, needless to say. But the will fades as the body suffers. And I have no illusions about the suffering that will come,” admitted Nyad. She said she had meditated on the phrase “Find a way.”
Nyad’s performance is remarkable at any age, but extraordinary and limit-snapping for a 64-year-old athlete. What people like Nyad demonstrate is this: aging and physical deterioration is not automatic or inevitable.
Nyad says she feels stronger and more resilient than she did when setting records in her 20s, still “vital and powerful,” and definitely “not old.”
Nyad said prior to the start of her fourth attempt last year she wants people inspired by her efforts to continue to work hard, test their wills, and dream big – at any age. Without a doubt, at this Nyad is successful beyond imagining.
You can follow Nyad’s attempt via her blog at DianaNyad.com, or on her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Look for the hashtags #XtremeDream, #FearlessNyad, and #CubaToFlorida
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She writes on professional cycling and covers the Sweet Science for Communities, along with other news in the sports world. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.