After four previous failed attempts, Diana Nyad, 64, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida, without flippers or a shark cage, completing the 110-mile, 53-hour swim on Monday to a throng of well-wishers on the beach.
“I got three messages,” Nyad told the crowd on the beach. “One is, we should never ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dreams. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”
Indeed, Nyad had a support team that included divers swimming ahead of her to move jellyfish from her path, and two kayakers warding off sharks with electronic pulses via a cable in the water. (A protective shark cage provides a drag effect for swimmers, making the swim easier.)
Excruciating jellyfish stings, rough seas, and asthma attacks were things that sabotaged previous attempts, the first made in 1978. This was her fourth attempt since turning 60.
Also, Nyad wore a suit and special silicone mask designed to protect her against jellyfish stings, though she opted not to use the mask the second night, instead wearing some sort of cream.
Perhaps the biggest key to her success was the mantra she maintained throughout the swim: “Find a way.”
“It doesn’t matter … what you come up against because none of it’s going to be pleasant,” she told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday. “You’re hardly ever out there going, ‘Oh, my God, isn’t it a beautiful moon tonight?’ The crew is feeling that. But you’re kind of suffering through the whole thing. So my thought was, ‘Everything you come up against say—and this is why people are relating to my story—all of us suffer heartache. All of us suffer difficulties in our lives. And if you say to yourself ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through.”
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Nyad said the hundreds of people who lined the beach in Key West to welcome her after her nearly 53-hour swim were “wonderful.” “They’re not people reading a sports page every day,” she said. “Those are human beings who want to witness the living out of that message: never, ever give up. And find a way. … And my age, they’re looking at me as a baby boomer, saying life is not over at this age by any means. So I’m more of, shall we say, human spirit story than I am a sports story.”
While on the beach, Nyad’s team helped push back the surging crowds, so the long distance swimmer—as required by official record keepers—could take the final steps of her journey unassisted, walking into the history books as the first person ever to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
After solidifying her record, Nyad’s crew enveloped her. She said then, “You’re never too old to live your dreams.”
Among those congratulating Nyad were President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom sent her tweets.
So what’s next for Nyad?
Taking her mantra a step further, Nyad plans to find a way to help others. In October, she plans to swim continuously for 48 hours in a pool in New York City to raise funds for people who lost their homes in Superstorm Sandy.
“Then we’re going to take that pool to the Boston Marathon at the anniversary of that terror attack, and we’re going to swim there to help those people recover,” she said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.”
After that, she’ll travel to Moore, Oklahoma, which was ravaged by a massive tornado earlier this year.
“I am through with the ocean,” Nyad said. “Never going to be seasick again! … [It’ll be] a nice pool with no waves, no jellyfish, no seasickness. Those 48 hours should be a piece of cake.”
Nyad fans will have something else to look forward to: a movie. “The Other Shore: The Diana Nyad Story” will be out soon. Here’s the trailer: