Nyad on record swim: "It was like hell on earth"

(CBS News) Diana Nyad completed a record swimMonday from Cuba to Key West, Florida. She's the first person to do it without a shark cage -- and she did it at age 64. We caught up with her the day after her accomplishment.

Diana Nyad said there were moments during her 110-mile swim from Cuba to Key West that she had some doubt. CBS News

So how did Nyad sleep last night? "Like a baby," she replied, "and I kept waking up and I was smiling."

But Nyad said there were moments during her 110-mile swim when the struggle was almost too much -- especially Saturday night, when she became nauseous from swallowing seawater. "Honestly, it was like hell on earth," she said.

At her lowest point, did any part of her think that's enough? "I admit during Saturday night," Nyad recalled, "I thought, 'Can I do this for two more nights?'"

But things turned around the next night, when Nyad's best friend, Bonnie Stoll, saw something on the horizon.

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"I thought, 'Oh so the sun's coming up.' She said, 'No, that's not the sun. Those are the lights of Key West.' And my heart skipped a beat."

Diana Nyad's best friend Bonnie Stoll told her she was seeing the Key West lights. CBS News
When she saw the lights, she thought this is it. "I'm not going to go through the crushing disappointment again. I thought it doesn't matter now -- nothing can stop this."

She swam 15 hours more before reaching land.

Her last four attempts to cross the Florida Straights cost $1 million. But not everyone saw the value.

"People have written me to criticize and say, 'It's all great, it's inspiring. But you know what could be done with that kind of money instead of financing your little personal dream?' Forget about the world record -- just a human willing to chase a dream and show her resolve to the point that she just won't give up. After all this failure she just won't give up. That message and the way people respond to it -- that's worth a million bucks, isn't it?"

Nyad said she's done now with swimming in the open ocean. But she is already planning another swim next month -- 48 hours in a pool in New York City to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.