Diana Nyad finally made it. On her fifth attempt, the 64-year-old became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
Nyad staggered onto a Key West beach Monday to cheers and applause from hundreds of supporters.
"I have three messages," she said, her words slurred due to swelling in her mouth caused by saltwater and jellyfish stings. "One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team."
It took more than 35 years for Nyad to achieve her career-long goal of swimming across the Florida Strait. Here, a brief timeline of Nyad's quest:
Nyad was a champion swimmer in her youth, with dreams of qualifying for the 1968 Olympics. She won three Florida state high school championships in the backstroke, as a speedy, short-distance specialist. Then she was stricken with endocarditis, an infection of the heart, for three months. When she returned to the pool, she found she was not as fast as before.
After a coach encouraged Nyad to take up marathon swimming, she set a women's world record of 4 hours and 22 minutes in her first 10-mile race.
Oct. 6, 1975
Nyad, then 25, swam around the island of Manhattan in seven hours and 57 minutes, beating an unofficial record of 8 hours and 56 minutes that was set in 1927 by a man named Byron Summers. It took Nyad two tries to make the 28-mile swim. Eleven days earlier, she abandoned the first attempt about half-way through after she got exhausted fighting strong currents whipped up by high winds.
Aug. 13, 1978
At 28, Nyad made her first attempt to swim from Havana to the Florida Keys. She swam 76 miles over 42 hours — protected by a shark cage — before abandoning the swim when high winds pushed her off course to the west.
Aug. 22, 1979
Nyad completed a swim from the island of North Bimini in the Bahamas to Juno Beach, Fla. At 102 miles, the swim set a world record for distance over open water. She didn't use a shark cage.
After her flurry of accomplishments and disappointments in the late '70s, Nyad embarked on a second career as an author and journalist that started with the publication of her memoir, Other Shores, in 1978. But as she approached the age of 60, feeling that she was frittering away her life, she got herself back into "monstrous shape," and made a second stab at her longtime goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida. Rough weather kept her from even getting into the water. (In 1997, Australian Susie Maroney had made it across the Strait at age 22, but she used a shark cage. She conceded that the drag from the cage helped her slip through the water faster. Nyad vowed not to use one.)
Aug. 8, 2011
Nyad made her second attempt to cross the Strait, but was forced to give up nearly 29 hours into the trip. Her shoulder started hurting early on. Then, at 61, she suffered her first asthma attack while in the water. Struggling to breathe, she kept on swimming as long as she could. "It was my decision to stop and nobody else's," she told The New York Times. "I'm deeply grieved and disappointed, but I can hold my head up high."
Sept. 25, 2011
Nyad took a third shot at making the record-breaking swim, reluctantly getting out of the water after more than 40 hours of swimming due to two Portuguese Man-of-War stings. "The medical team said I should not go another two nights in the water and risk additional likely Man-of-War stings which could have a long term cumulative effect on my body," Nyad said on her blog. She talked about giving up on her dream, saying she had no desire to face off once more against the potentially life-threatening toxic jellyfish. "I can't beat those guys," she told CNN. "They're too much for me."
Aug. 21, 2012
Nyad made another attempt last year, but gave up after her crew said "all hell broke loose" in the Florida Strait. Sharks circled, thunderstorms broke out nearby, and Nyad's arms were lacerated by painful jellyfish stings. She was severely sunburned. Finally, after Nyad spent three nights in the water, her support crew pulled her out, 50 miles short of her goal. "She could barely walk," one crew member said.
Sept. 2, 2013
In her fifth attempt, Nyad finally reached the beach in Key West. Afterwards, she said she would continue training and taking on long-distance swims to raise money for charity — but only in swimming pools. Below, take a look at the final moments of Diana Nyad's last battle with the open ocean.