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Swimmer Diana Nyad on Cuba-Florida homestretch

September 3, 2013 at 1:30 am | News Desk

Swimmer Diana Nyad on Cuba-Florida homestretch MIAMI: Braving jellyfish and extreme fatigue, US swimmer Diana Nyad was just strokes away Monday from becoming the first person to cross from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

The 64-year-old broke Penny Palfrey’s 2012 distance record late Sunday, making it farther than anyone on the treacherous stretch with no protection.

The athlete, on her fifth bid to realize her quest, was on track after 48 hours in the water to make it ashore between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (1800-2000 GMT), her team said in a brief update.

Four hours earlier, she was on course to swim 112 statute miles (180 kilometers) — 35 more miles than anyone before her, according to her website.

But it hasn’t been easy, with challenges looming large on the homestretch.

Doctors — monitoring Nyad from support boats shadowing her — reported early Monday that her tongue and lips were so swollen that her speech had become slurred.

She also experienced extreme cold overnight, they said.

As Nyad approached Key West, large jellyfish appeared in her path. To keep her from suffering a debilitating sting, divers swam ahead of Nyad looking for more.

“Diana is still wearing her jellyfish suit and got a reapplication of sting stopper on her hands, face and feet,” her team said.

In a display of endurance and spirit, Nyad had actually increased her average speed to 1.76 miles per hour Sunday after more than 24 hours in the water.

Nyad set off from Cuba on Saturday in what she said would be her final bid to swim across the perilous Florida Straits without the protection of a shark cage, hoping to make the trek in 80 hours.

When necessary, Nyad is wearing the full-body suit. She also has a specially designed prosthetic face mask as well as gloves and shoes at her disposal to protect herself from jellyfish stings.

A year ago, Nyad ended her fourth bid to cross the stretch after battling lightning storms and swarms of jellyfish for more than two days.

Swimmer Diana Nyad on Cuba-Florida homestretch Her first attempt was in 1978, when she was 28.

Nyad set an open sea record for both men and women by swimming from the Bahamas to the Florida Keys in 1979 — a journey that is about the same distance as the Cuba-Florida swim, but which she has described as far less dangerous.

At a news conference on Friday, the veteran expressed confidence that she would persevere this time around.

She said her dream of 35 years also sought to bring communist Cuba and the United States — which have been at odds for decades — closer together.

Swimmer Diana Nyad on Cuba-Florida homestretch Nyad is accompanied by a team of more than 30 people on several yachts and kayaks.

Australian Susan Maroney is the first and only person who has managed to swim across the Florida Straits. Protected by a shark cage, she did so in 1997 when she was 22.

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