Diana Nyad insisted that she would not swim again after being pulled from the ocean on August 21, 2013, ending her fourth try to cross the Florida Straits from Cuba to Key West. However her team and friends knew that this dream is one that she could not give up.
Just before 2 p.m., on Sept. 2, 2013, Nyad completed the 110 mile feat just 53 hours after starting her swim from Havana. She set a new record for the longest ocean swim without a shark cage or flippers. Upon reaching shore at Smathers Beach in Key West, Fla., an exhausted but triumphant Nyad had three things to tell the large gathering of people who had watched her achieve a lifelong dream. It was her fifth attempt to make the crossing, one she first tried in 1978 when she was only 28.
"I have three messages," said the breathless Nyad."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 takes a team."
That team included a jellyfish specialist who developed a “sting stopper” and a design team who made a special suit and protective silicone mask to better protect her from potentially deadly box jellyfish. Also on the boats that accompanied Nyad was a medical team, a navigator who set the best path through tides, eddys, currents, shipping lanes and swarms of jellyfish, shark specialists, and friends and trainers who stroked in kayaks alongside Nyad and encouraged her.
Due to the skill of the navigators to avoid the worst of the jellyfish, an advance kayak scooping up jellyfish and the protective suit she avoided being stung by the poisonous box jellyfish that ended her fourth attempt. Unfortunately the suit also caused drag which made it harder for Nyad to swim.
A rebel to the end Nyad showed her tenacity once again on the last morning of the swim when she stopped for her first feeding since before midnight. It was clear she was exhausted and the doctors were concerned about her airway. Her lips and tongue were swollen due to the salt water and she still had 6.5 miles to go.
Within 10 minutes of restarting, Bonnie, her primary handler saw how sore Nyad was and blew the whistle, telling Diana to swim breaststroke which used a different set of muscles but was slower. “Your arms are really tired. Only until we take the suit off. Then you can swim crawl again for the rest of the time.” Diana nodded and did one breaststroke, then stopped and said, “I don’t want to do it,” and went back to swimming the crawl.
The determined woman was steadfast to the end and only stopped to chat two miles before reaching the shore. She asked the boats to gather so she could talk to everyone. Then Diana Nyad revealed how much the accomplishment meant to her to the team.
"I am about to swim my last two miles in the ocean. This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very very glad to be with you. Some on the team are the most intimate friends of my life and some of you I've just met. But I'll tell you something, you're a special group. You pulled through; you are pros and have a great heart. So let's get going so we can have a whopping party."
Last year Nyad swore it was her last effort but this was the one swim she had to complete.
‘‘It’s historic, marvelous,’’ said Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, the Hemingway Marina commodore who helped organize the Cuba side of Nyad’s multiple attempts.
‘‘I always thought she could do it given her internal energy, her mental and physical strength, her will of iron,’’ said Diaz Escrich, whom Nyad has described as a longtime friend.
“I think that Mother Nature said: ‘You know what? Let her go,’ ” said Bonnie Stoll, one of her closest friends. “Diana also did her homework.”
To stay focused, Ms. Nyad did what she always does: she hummed her favorite songs in her head. Her strokes were calibrated to the cadence of some Beatles’ songs such as “Ticket to Ride” and “Paperback Writer.”