Nyad completes dream on Cuba-to-Keys swim

Swimmer, 64, completes 112-mile swim in just under 53 hours

Diana Nyad has become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. The 64-year-old Nyad stepped ashore in Key West on Monday just before 2 p.m., about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday. (Sept. 2)

KEY WEST - Finally, spit from the ocean, exhausted and sunburned, came the 64-year-old swimmer. Diana Nyad took a first unsteady step onto the beach Monday afternoon after nearly 53 hours of swimming and lightly raised a fist.

"You did it!" said her friend, Bonnie Stoll, embracing her.

"Wooo-hoooo!" cheered 1,000 curious locals and tourists.

Her face too swollen to smile, her mind blurred from pain and no sleep, Nyad then did something anyone could appreciate after this first Cuba-to-Key West swim without a shark cage, after throwing up food for two days, after fighting five-foot waves the first night, a squall the second and jellyfish the last stretch.

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She collapsed in Stoll's arms.

"I'm dazed,'' she said.

And so this strange, 112-mile fight between swimmer and sea ended just as it should, as it must after four previous attempts and 35 years. Mother Nature and Father Time demanded everything Nyad had.

Nyad, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, was helped to the shade of a palm tree on Smathers Beach by friends who aided this swim of the Florida Straits. She then stopped amid the sun-baked crowd before lying on a medical stretcher.

"I've got three messages,'' Nyad said, her puffy tongue making the words slur slightly. "One is, we should never ever give up. Two is, you're never too old to chase your dream.

"Three, swimming might seem like a solitary sport, but it takes a team."

"Woo-hoo!" the crowd cheered.

What made her do this at 64? Not money. She wasn't getting any for this feat. Not fame. After the immediate cheers and the day's headline fade, she'll be gone from view.

So, in some ways, this was sports at its purest, an aging athlete crazy enough to risk death and tough enough complete a dream even her closest friends dismissed.

"I told her, 'If this was humanly possible, Diana Nyad would have done it one of the first four times,' " Stoll said. "I told her people were going to look at her you like you do the crazy cat lady.''

"I'll make it,'' Nyad told her.

To understand the perils, understand her first four attempts. Her first one in 1978 ended after 70 miles because of eight-foot waves. Her three attempts the past three years ended because of the Florida Gulf Stream current or too many poisonous jellyfish attacks.

"Last year, doctors worked on her when jellyfish lashed her face and chest and she was screaming in the water,'' said her navigator, John Bartlett. "I said, 'You're not going to let her go on, are you?' They shrugged and said she wants to."

She swam 20 more miles before stopping.

"My own private Olympics,'' she called this swim.

This was her last attempt. She told everyone that before she shouted, "Courage!" and jumped into the water off Marina Hemingway point in Cuba at 8:59 a.m. Friday.