Nyad endures jellyfish in marathon swim

U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad begins her swim from Cuba to Florida at the Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba, Friday Sept. 23, 2011. AP Photo/Javier Galeano

HAVANA — Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad pressed on through the Florida Straits on Saturday morning, her pace a little slower after a rough night of painful Portuguese Man o' War stings but still making progress around a quarter of the way to her goal.

Nyad's team, which is updating fans and well-wishers throughout the world via social media, reported that she was about 25 miles off the coast of Cuba. She is hoping to complete 103 miles to Florida, besting her own record for an open-water swim without a shark cage by about a half-mile.

"It's been a challenging night and morning," her assistants said through Facebook, Twitter and her personal website. "Diana recovered from the multiple Portuguese Man O' War stings enough to swim — but she is struggling right now. Her usual stroke pace, between 52 and 55 strokes per minute, has dropped to 48, but she is able to swim."

Nyad suffered stings on both arms, her face and her side. She later complained of breathing problems, and two doctors gave her a steroid shot, oxygen and other medicine, they said.

"Night turned into day as the dawn broke slowly on the horizon. 'You're doing better. I can see it,"' her chief handler told Nyad.

Nyad says her strategy for enduring the roughly 60 hours it should take her to swim from Cuba to Florida, testing the limits of human exhaustion at the age of 62, is to focus on one partial goal after another.

"The mental approach has to be to parcel it out. No one could swim the whole thing while thinking about the whole thing," she said on her website. "Till I get a glimpse of the final shore I can't start obsessing on it — it's too far away, too nebulous — I don't know where it is. So I'm going to take it night by day: first get through the nighttime and then get through the daytime, and then the nighttime again, and so on."

She told reporters Friday in Havana that she likes to sing songs inside her head to pass the hours. Among her favorites: The Beatles, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan.

Nyad is making her second attempt in as many months at the Cuba-Florida crossing, a lifelong dream that she first tried as a 28-year-old back in 1978, when she swam inside a steel shark cage for about 42 hours before ending the attempt.

This summer she's trying to do it cageless, instead relying on electronic equipment that surrounds her with a field that deters sharks.

An attempt in August fell short 29 hours in when, gasping for breath, Nyad threw in the towel after an 11-hour asthma attack she blamed on a bad reaction to a new medicine.

But she said the experience did not convince her that she was physically not up to the challenge, and Nyad, who insisted the problems had nothing to do with her advancing age, came to think of the aborted swim not as a failure but an unplanned dress rehearsal.

Though she had vowed there would be no second attempt, this week she flew to Cuba to take advantage of what she called a "magical window" of good weather and sea conditions. On Friday evening she jumped feet-first into the still waters off a Havana marina as her support team cheered and blew horns, and began stroking north toward the horizon.

Minutes earlier Nyad weighed herself and tipped the scales at 146 pounds. She said she expected to lose about 15 pounds between now and her anticipated landfall in Florida on Monday morning.

Nyad is no stranger to painful stings suffered on marathon swims in the open ocean, and her assistants said she could recover and complete the journey.

"'It was scary' said (chief handler and close friend Bonnie) Stoll," according to one tweet. "But Diana is happy that this happened early while she is still at her strongest."

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