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Diana Nyad celebrates historic 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3 2013 10:47 p.m. MDT

In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau Diana Nyad emerges from the Atlantic Ocean after completing a 111-mile swim from Cuba to Key West, Fla. Nyad, 64, is the first swimmer to cross the Florida Straits without the security of a shark cage. The swim took Nyad 52 hours and 54 minutes, according to a support team member.  (Florida Keys Bureau, Andy Newman, Associated Press) In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau Diana Nyad emerges from the Atlantic Ocean after completing a 111-mile swim from Cuba to Key West, Fla. Nyad, 64, is the first swimmer to cross the Florida Straits without the security of a shark cage. The swim took Nyad 52 hours and 54 minutes, according to a support team member. (Florida Keys Bureau, Andy Newman, Associated Press)

KEY WEST, Fla. — Amid cheers, applause and whoops of joy Tuesday, Diana Nyad launched what promised to be a dayslong celebration of her 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida — a record she finally set 35 years and four tries after her first attempt.

The 64-year-old swimmer appeared refreshed and invigorated less than 24 hours after she had arrived dazed and sunburned, with lips swollen and slurred speech, onto the shore at Key West.

Nyad, the first swimmer to make the grueling journey across the Florida Straits without a shark cage, told a news conference that the biggest challenge of the 53-hour swim this time around was high winds and swallowing large amounts of seawater, which she said made her vomit continuously.

"It was rough stuff," she said.

Cracking jokes and gesturing energetically, Nyad heaped praise on the members of the team that accompanied her, from a young man who swam beside her and encouraged her to keep going, to a box jellyfish expert who kept an eye out for the deadly creatures that ruined her past attempts.

FILE - In a Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 file photo, U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, begins her swim to Florida from the waters off Havana, Cuba. Nyad's representatives said Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 that she's less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Florida in her latest attempt to swim there from Cuba. Nyad is trying to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.  (Ramon Espinosa, File, Associated Press) FILE - In a Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 file photo, U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, begins her swim to Florida from the waters off Havana, Cuba. Nyad's representatives said Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 that she's less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Florida in her latest attempt to swim there from Cuba. Nyad is trying to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. (Ramon Espinosa, File, Associated Press)

This time around, she noted, currents, weather and dangerous sea creatures all worked more in her favor. The jellyfish that had plagued her four previous attempts failed to appear until the final hours of her swim, which left her free to concentrate on her stroke and time her breaths to limit the amount of seawater coming into her mouth.

To help her fight the jellyfish, Nyad wore a protective silicone mask that increased her salt water intake and bruised her mouth, and a full-body "jellyfish suit" that weighed down her crawl strokes.

The swimmer was clearly thrilled that she had finally accomplished a dream she first acted on in 1978. She tried three times more in 2011 and 2012.

"It's been a thrilling journey," she said.

Asked what she would do to celebrate, Nyad said a party would begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, "and I expect it to go 53 hours."

President Barack Obama was among a flurry of public officials and celebrities who tweeted congratulations. The president's tweet echoed the sentiment Nyad has repeated many times when faced with defeat: "Never give up on your dreams."

Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad is greeted by former Key West Mayor Sonny McCoy as she is taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center after completing her historic swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. McCoy, now 86, successfully water-skied, on one ski, between the islands in 1978, the same year Nyad made her first of five attempts. McCoy's son,  Sean, at right, chose a parasail to make his trip between Cuba and Key West in 1997.  (The Key West Citizen, Rob O'Neal, Associated Press) Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad is greeted by former Key West Mayor Sonny McCoy as she is taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center after completing her historic swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. McCoy, now 86, successfully water-skied, on one ski, between the islands in 1978, the same year Nyad made her first of five attempts. McCoy's son, Sean, at right, chose a parasail to make his trip between Cuba and Key West in 1997. (The Key West Citizen, Rob O'Neal, Associated Press)

Nyad's doctor, Derek Covington of the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital, said the swimmer was healthy and would not need a long time to recover from dehydration, sunburn and the swelling in and around her mouth.

"She was incredible to watch the whole way through," he said.

Nyad leaped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana on Saturday morning to begin swimming. She paused occasionally for nourishment, but never left the water until she reached the white sand beaches of the Keys and waded ashore.

The support team accompanying her had equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her, designed to keep sharks at bay. A boat also dragged a line in the water to help keep her on course as she kept up the strokes, hour after hour after hour. Along the way, her team said it spotted thunderstorms on the horizon and even reported on her blog that cruise ships made way for Nyad as she crossed busy ship lanes.

In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Diana Nyad tells supporters and fans that you are In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Diana Nyad tells supporters and fans that you are "never too old to chase your dreams" after completing a 111-mile swim from Cuba to Key West, Fla. Nyad, 64, is the first swimmer to cross the Florida Straits without the security of a shark cage. The swim took Nyad 52 hours and 54 minutes, according to a support team member. (Florida Keys Bureau, Andy Newman, Associated Press)

"I always thought she could do it given her internal energy, her mental and physical strength, her will of iron," Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, the Hemingway Marina commodore who helped organize the Cuba side of Nyad's multiple attempts, said Monday after Nyad landed in Florida.

"More than the athletic feat, she wants to send a message of peace, love, friendship and happiness ... between the people of the United States and Cuba," he added.

Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Strait in 1997 with a shark cage, which besides protection from the predators, has a drafting effect that pulls a swimmer along.

In 2012, Australian Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to stop. This June, her countrywoman Chloe McCardel made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.

Fans push towards long distance swimmer Diana Nyad, center, as she comes ashore, and is greeted by her trainer Bonnie Stoll, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 in Key West, Fla., becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. Nyad arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday. Her trainer Bonnie Stoll   (J Pat Carter, Associated Press) Fans push towards long distance swimmer Diana Nyad, center, as she comes ashore, and is greeted by her trainer Bonnie Stoll, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 in Key West, Fla., becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. Nyad arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday. Her trainer Bonnie Stoll (J Pat Carter, Associated Press)

Nyad acknowledged on Tuesday that she was glad when McCardel didn't make it before she had had a chance to, but she did add, to laughter from her team, that "I didn't want her to get bitten by jellyfish or die or anything."

Nyad also said that even if McCardel had accomplished the goal previously, she would have tried it again, anyway. Finally reaching the goal that had eluded her so many times before is now less about receiving awards and accolades, she said.

"When I was in my 20s, my ego got in the way," she said, adding that now — even though she is happy to set a record and be feted publicly for it — when it comes to awards, "I just don't care about it."

U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad walks on to the Key West, Fl., shore Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, as team members form a wall to protect her, as she becomes the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. Nyad arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday.  (J Pat Carter, Associated Press) U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad walks on to the Key West, Fl., shore Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, as team members form a wall to protect her, as she becomes the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. Nyad arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday. (J Pat Carter, Associated Press)

In 1978, Walter Poenisch, an Ohio baker, claimed to have made the swim using flippers and a snorkel. Critics say there was insufficient independent documentation to verify his claim.

Nyad first garnered national attention in 1975 when she swam the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in just under eight hours. In 1979 she swam the 102 miles from North Bimini, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Fla., in 27.5 hours.

Nyad is also an author of three books, a motivational speaker and has been a reporter and commentator for NPR.

Associated Press Writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.

Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad swims towards shore in Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, after swimming from Cuba. Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. She arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday.   (J Pat Carter, Associated Press) Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad swims towards shore in Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, after swimming from Cuba. Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. She arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday. (J Pat Carter, Associated Press)

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