Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad called upon her farflung crew to get themselves to Key West this weekend for her fourth attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida.
Taking advantage of weather signs and conditions, Nyad (less than a week shy of her 63rd birthday) leaped into the waters off Havana on Saturday, August 18th, a day earlier than expected. The 103-mile swim – what she calls the “Xtreme Dream” – will require at least 60 hours of continuous nonstop effort. It’s the third time in a year Nyad will take to the seas in an effort to complete the swim.
Nyad’s first attempt at the Cuba to Florida swim was in 1978 when she was 28 years old. After nearly 42 hours in a shark cage, Nyad’s team pulled her out of the sea — battered, delirious, ravaged by jellyfish, and only 50 miles from where she had started.
Thirty-four years later, Nyad’s getting across to the other shore depends as much on her training as it does on her team keeping her physically and mentally on course. Her hydration, nutrition and overall well-being are their responsibility. Last year’s attempt resulted in extreme pain and anaphlyactic shock from the deadly Box jellyfish stings, so the team has made protecting Nyad from the venom of these animals the #1 concern this year.
Last week, Xtreme Dream team leader Bonnie instructed her crew:
Everything is being fine-tuned down here so that when the swim does come (and it will), we can be most efficient in our job. The jellyfish suit, the special cream Sting Stopper for the places the hoodie, the booties and the body suit doesn’t cover…this get-up only has to be worn between dusk and dawn. We have been practicing putting it on and taking it off at least once each training swim. We’re down to under 4 minutes.
We will bring Diana in every 90 minutes for fluids, food, reapplication of lanolin, lip balm, and whatever else she may need. Every 45 mins we will whistle signal her to swim to the floating camelback for a quick hit of water. The boat comes to neutral while Diana sips and gets back to swimming above the streamer. This only takes 10-15 seconds.
Clearly, this is a precision operation that involves intense preparation.
If Nyad’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of her incredible feats – including prior attempts to swim the straits of Florida. In addition to winning multiple swimming marathons during the 1970’s, she was one of the first women to encircle the island of Manhattan, and she holds the world’s record for longest ocean swim -— for men as well as for women —- 103 miles from the island of Bimini in the Bahamas to Jupiter, Florida.
Lately, the news has been as much about Nyad’s age as her athletic feats. A proud card-carrying member of AARP, she aims to demonstrate to women everywhere that nothing is impossible.
CNN, who has been documenting her journey, interviewed Nyad about her most recent attempt:
“I’m slower than I was, but I’m still vital and I’m still powerful, and when I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, ‘I’m going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I’m going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I’m going to adopt a child. It’s not too late, I can still live my dreams.'”
In the first 12 hours of the swim, Nyad encountered swarms of jellyfish and was stung at least four times forcing her to shift to the backstroke to minimize deadly stings to her face and lips. By Sunday morning, she had covered about 25 miles.