Nyad pushes through 2nd night of 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

MIAMI — Endurance athlete Diana Nyad pressed on despite painful jellyfish stings and kept swimming treacherous ocean currents beneath the stars early Sunday, about halfway through a grueling course from Cuba to Florida.

As of the latest update before sunrise, her crew said the 62-year-old swimmer had completed 49 miles of the 103-mile passage of the treacherous Florida Straits and was swimming beneath a nighttime sky bristling with stars. If all goes well, she hopes to complete her sea swimming odyssey Monday morning.

Updates have been coming from her handlers via Internet posts, and already Nyad has been in the water longer than her aborted attempt at a Florida Straits crossing last month, when she lasted 29 hours before a crippling asthma attack forced her to call it quits.

Her latest attempt also has been fraught with difficulties.

Nyad suffered a weekend jellyfish sting that painfully affected her face and eyes and was treated late Saturday aboard a support vessel. But her team tweeted early Sunday that she hit the water again and was continuing her methodical strokes toward her goal. Her website said she had completed more than 34 and a half hours in the water soon after 4:30 a.m. EDT (0830 GMT) Sunday — or more than 93,000 strokes.

Nyad picks up pace on Florida swim
Nyad endures jellyfish in marathon swim
diananyad.com

An independent observer said she could still pursue her attempted record-setting swim from Cuba to Florida despite seeking treatment.

Nyad's team said early Sunday in a post on her website that the record would still be valid as long as she was on the boat only for treatment and not to rest. It didn't elaborate on the specific treatment she received or how long she was out of the water, but a team blog update posted before dawn said she resumed swimming at the "exact spot" where she had paused.

"The rules say she is now going for a record staged swim rather than a non-stop swim," the updated noted.

Her organizers said making it through the second night would be a key test to completing her swim as she struggles with the physical and mental challenges of such a distance. Her website said she was breaking up the swim into manageable blocks of time and getting through difficult nighttime hours by recalling favorite songs and thinking upbeat thoughts.

"Tonight, her second night in the open water, may be the most critical," Nyad's website said.

The latest blog update before dawn included a photograph of the stars and said "for now, no news is good news" as she took aim for the Florida Keys.

"At this moment, Diana might be playing Neil Young in her mind or contemplating Stephen Hawking's theories of the cosmos," the team blog update said.

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. A cageless attempt this past 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.

This attempt was fraught with more than just one sting. Earlier in her trip, Nyad had a run-in with a Portuguese Man o' War that she called "scary" and which left her with stings on her face, arms and side. Complaining of difficulty breathing, she received oxygen and a steroid shot from her doctors and trod water while she recovered from that earlier Man o' War sting.

On Saturday, handlers spotted barracudas in the area and she got a visit from a curious Oceanic white tipped shark that was shooed off by a support diver. Three so-called "shark divers" served as her security detail in the water early Sunday.

Without a cage to protect her, Nyad is relying on equipment surrounding her with an electrical field that is harmless but deters most sharks. Her divers are there to gently discourage any who make it through. But not all encounters with marine life were unpleasant. Earlier in her journey, 10 pilot whales emerged in the distance ahead of the swimmer, according to one team tweet.

The Los Angeles woman normally pauses every 45 and 90 minutes to rest and refuel on food that her assistants pass to her in the water, but without getting on the boat. For strength she is regularly being fed with pasta, bananas, bite-size pieces of peanut butter sandwiches and high calorie and high carbohydrate liquid refreshments. Her website reported that at one point when her energy appeared to flag, she picked up the pace soon after consuming blended chicken soup.