When Diana Nyad began swimming the treacherous waters from Cuba to Florida on Saturday, she vowed it would be her last attempt. The 64-year-old has spent nearly 35 years trying to swim the 103-mile strait without the help of a shark cage, flippers or wet suit. Previous attempts have ended prematurely due to dehydration, ocean currents, ominous weather and jellyfish stings to her tongue.
“I admit there’s an ego rush,” Nyad said before she started her 5th and final attempt. “If I — three days from now, four days from now — am still somehow bringing the arms up and I see the shore … I am going to have a feeling that no one yet on this planet has ever had.”
Well, SHE DID IT. Today, Nyad became the first person EVER to swim unprotected from Cuba to Florida, and she completed the swim in 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18 seconds. Covered in salt from her waterlogged trip, she was met by a massive crowd of supporters and immediately put on a stretcher to receive medical treatment, including an IV.
Nyad, who was born in New York, spent most of her childhood in Florida and started swimming competitively in 7th grade. After much success in high school training under Jack Nelson, an Olympian swimmer, Diana had Olympic dreams of her own, but lost her competitive speed due to a heart infection that left her hospitalized for three months. Nyad attended college at Emory (but she got booted from parachuting out a dorm window) and Lake Forest College, where she was first introduced to marathon swimming. In 1970, she swam her first long-distance race and broke her first world record: Swimming 10 miles in 4 hours and 22 minutes. In 1975, she swam the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in under eight hours. In 1979 she took on and conquered the 102 miles from North Bimini, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Fla., in 27.5 hours.
Flash forward nearly half a century later and today, she was finally able to break the record she’s been working towards for more than half her life. Even President Obama took the time to tweet his congrats:
Congratulations to @DianaNyad. Never give up on your dreams.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 2, 2013
You can read more about her journey here, where Diana’s 35-member crew (which includes doctors, navigators, captains and consultants) have been posting breaking updates about her progress since the beginning of her swim (like that one time when a cruise ship made way for her — NBD).
Featured image via AP