By Christi Barli, AFP/Getty Images
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad swims off Havana, Cuba, on Saturday as she begins a more than 100-mile trip across the Florida Straits to the Florida Keys.
Diana Nyad's record-setting, 103-mile weekend swim from Cuba to Florida was marred by swirling winds, choppy waters, seasickness and a bit of self-doubt, the exhausted but ebullient distance swimmer said Tuesday.
Winds created choppy sea conditions about 90 minutes after she slipped into the water in Havana on Saturday morning. "As a swimmer, you're never happy in wind, you go up and down and you fight it," she said at a Tuesday press briefing in Key West.
Although the waves slapped against her, Nyad, 64, managed to avoid swallowing water until that Saturday evening, when she donned a wet suit and a face mask to fend off the venomous box jellyfish that had marred previous efforts to swim. The custom-made mask, however, couldn't prevent her from swallowing water.
"Saturday night was hell on Earth. I couldn't take a breath - I was getting tired as well,'' said Nyad, happy that she completed the crossing 35 years after her first attempt failed.
Ringed by kayakers using electronic gear to ward off sharks and keep her on course, Nyad said she began vomiting from the seawater hours after beginning her torturous swim. By Sunday morning, her support crew was trying to get her to eat scrambled eggs and consume fluids to keep her hydrated.
"I was losing confidence that I could make it through Sunday and Monday nights,'' she said. "It was really tough."
Her support crew did not tell her how much farther she needed to go to reach Key West - Nyad said she thought she'd still be swimming into Tuesday, figuring the trip would take 80 hours. Instead, favorable currents and a steady pace of about 1.8 miles an hour got her to shore shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, just under 53 hours after she began.
Nyad attempted her first crossing in 1978, followed by failed attempts in 2011 and 2012. It was the first crossing for someone not using a shark cage or flippers.
"As I've said before, this is a sport filled with personal isolation. It takes a lot of will and mind to get through all these hours. The mental concentration of non-stop swimming ... the physical duress is obvious," she said.
Nyad said she often passed the hours humming songs from Neil Young, Janis Joplin and others, recalling the works of scientist Stephen Hawking and counting numbers in Spanish, French and German.
"It's been a thrilling journey,'' Nyad said, urging fellow Baby Boomers that it's never too late to pursue personal goals and dreams. "The truth is, we're just coming into our own. I wanted this swim not to just be about an athletic record, but a lesson to live life fully engaged, to be alert and alive every day."
Nyad will swim for 48 hours in a specially built Italian lap pool to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
"That's going to be a breeze,'' Nyad said.