Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Associated Press
HAVANA - Third time's a charm?
American endurance athlete Diana Nyad holds a news conference Saturday in Havana to announce her latest attempt to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys without a shark cage.
The Associated Press
Endurance athlete Diana Nyad launched another bid Saturday to set an open-water record by swimming 103 miles from Havana to the Florida Keys without a protective shark cage.
Under a blazing afternoon sun at the Hemingway Marina in the Cuban capital, Nyad adjusted her cap and goggles, pointed to the open water, blew a bugle and cried: "Adios amigos! Courage!" Then she leaped in feet first and stroked toward her support boat.
Less than a week before she turns 63, the Los Angeles woman is attempting a feat that even the fittest of human beings would find daunting. It's a dream that has taken three years of marathon open-water training swims and multiple aborted attempts at the crossing.
TWO THWARTED ATTEMPTS
In the summer of 2010, unfavorable weather kept her from even setting out. Last year, first a debilitating asthma attack and then painful, dangerous stings from box jellyfish forced her from the water on two attempts.
This time Nyad is banking on a custom-made swimsuit to protect her from the jellyfish. It covers her head-to-toe with a pantyhose face and holes only for the eyes, nose and mouth.
It's non-buoyant but still creates drag in the water, so she hopes to don it only at night when jellyfish are more likely to rise to the surface.
"You have to learn from your mistakes. You don't do it the first time," Nyad said. "We need some luck, but we do feel like we've solved all the problems."
On her second try last summer, Nyad lasted 41 hours before calling it quits. She estimated it will take at least 60 hours to complete the swim to the Keys, and said the Straits of Florida are forecast to remain calm through Tuesday.
In June, Australian endurance swimmer Penny Palfrey made it 79 miles of the way before throwing in the towel in the face of strong currents.
A fiercely driven competitor, Nyad acknowledged it was hard to watch Palfrey come close to snatching away her long-held goal.
"If she had succeeded I would have congratulated her, because I know how difficult it is, more than anybody. And after all, this is not my ocean," Nyad said. "But it is my dream. ... Frankly -- how can I lie? -- I'm glad that I still have the chance to be first."
FIVE VESSELS, CREW OF 50
A 50-person support team including navigators, weather gurus and a shark handler from Australia were accompanying Nyad on five vessels. She planned to take short, periodic breaks for rest and nourishment.
In lieu of a cage, a kayaker will paddle alongside dangling an apparatus in the water that creates an electrical field designed to repel sharks. A team of shark handlers will carefully scan the surrounding waters from the roof of her main support boat, ready to dive in and gently nudge away any predators that make it through the shield.
Nyad confessed to feeling nerves in addition to confidence as she set out: "My heart is going to beat fast because this is history in front of me."
After falling short in the past she has vowed not to try again, but each time the siren call of the straits proved too great.
INSPIRATION TO OTHERS
Asked if she would make another attempt if the weather, currents and marine life all cooperate but she is physically not up to the task, Nyad did not categorically rule out a fourth try.
But she suggested that even she has a limit.
"Sitting here, I can't address that," Nyad said. "I have to say, it's too much. I've asked too many people to put in too much. We know what we're doing. This has to be it. It just has to be."
Nyad, who is also a writer, journalist and motivational speaker, said she hopes to inspire people of all ages to live active lives.
"Instead of staying on the couch for a lifetime and letting this precious time go by, why not be bold?" she said. "Be fiercely bold, and go out and chase your dreams."