Nyad, right, and her trainer, Bonnie Stoll hug after Nyad walks ashore in Key West, Fla. / J Pat Carter, AP
Senior swimmer Diana Nyad stepped onto dry sand in Key West on Monday after swimming more than 100 miles through treacherous waters from Cuba, at last achieving a goal she has pursued for 35 years.
"Never, ever give up,'' Nyad, 64, said after becoming the first person to swim from Havana to the southernmost point in the continental United States without the assistance of a protective shark cage.
"You're never too old to chase your dreams,'' she added.
Nyad arrived on U.S. soil 53 hours after she slipped into the warm water at Havana's Hemingway Marina on Saturday, roughly 110 miles south of the beach where her arrival was greeted with celebration. She set a record for the longest ocean swim without a shark cage or flippers, according to her crew.
Nyad succeeded in the difficult solo crossing on her fifth attempt. She first tried in 1978 and made three other attempts in 2011 and 2012.
Her determination and perseverance in the face of nature's hazards and age's toll on the body drew wide admiration as an example of human triumph.
"Diana Nyad's remarkable achievement today is an inspiration to everyone,'' tweeted former Florida congressman and MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough.
Looking a bit dazed and puffy from her ordeal, Nyad made a few brief remarks on the shore, then was placed on a stretcher and given an IV with liquids before being taken by ambulance to a hospital.
"I have to say, I'm a little bit out of it right now,'' she said.
She pointed to her swollen lips and said simply, "Seawater.''
Her longtime friend, Diaz Escrich, said Nyad has "will of iron."
"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," Escrich said.
Nyad wore a bodysuit and at night put a special silicone mask over her head and face to protect from jellyfish stings. Nyad never left the water during her journey but stopped to eat regularly, aided by crewmembers including doctors on support boats that accompanied her.
Her doctors had grown worried about her slurred speech and breathing but did not intervene to halt the attempt, her website said. She said via her website that the jellyfish mask caused abrasions and sores in her mouth that made it hard for her to talk.
"I went through hell on Saturday night for 13 hours with the jellyfish mask,'' she told ABC News after being discharged from hospital. "It was difficult to breath, but my resolve on this thing was deep.''
She stopped briefly two miles from shore and asked the five support boats to gather around her. From the water, she offered them thanks.
"This is a lifelong dream of mine, and I'm very, very glad to be with you,'' she told them according to her website, where support staff posted updates on her progress.
Australian Susie Maroney successfully made the swim in 1997 with a shark cage, which 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 abandon the attempt. This June, Australian Chloe McCardel made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.
Nyad first came to 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.
Contributing: Associated Press
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