Adventurers of the Year: Swimmer Diana Nyad

The swimmer continues her quest to swim from Cuba to Florida

Apr 8, 2013
Outside Magazine

Nyad in Cuba suiting up for her 2012 bid    Photo: AP

FOR THE PAST two summers, Diana Nyad has generated worldwide attention for her dogged attempts to swim the 103 miles from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida. But the most amazing thing about her quest isn’t the mileage she racked up in her four failed bids but the fact that, at 63, she wouldn’t think of giving up. “I’m either going to die or make that swim,” says the Los Angeles–based Nyad, who plans to try again this summer. Nyad, who has been long-distance swimming for much of her life (she swam around Manhattan in 1975 and from the Bahamas to Florida, a distance of 102 miles, in 1979), says each failure drives her more intently to succeed. “We learn something every time we go out,” she says:

1. Eddies suck.
The Gulf Stream is 65 miles wide and flows like a river, at up to five knots, due east. And like any river, it has eddies—massive ones, as large as 50 miles across. “They’re difficult to predict and difficult to get out of,” says Nyad, who swims at roughly 1.5 knots.

2. Man-of-war stings hurt.
“You get nauseous, and it feels like an asthma attack,” she says.

3. Whitetip sharks are like honey badgers.
Unlike tiger and lemon sharks, whitetips are impervious to the fish-repelling electrical field generated by the device her chase kayak drags alongside her. “They don’t care about it at all,” says Nyad, who’s been buzzed but never bitten.

4. Box jellyfish are the worst.
“They’re the perfect lethal weapon,” says Nyad of the sugar-cube-size blobs. Their toxin attacks the nervous system, causing nausea, breathing problems, and even death. Last August, Nyad wore a full-body swimsuit, pulled a nylon stocking over her head, and had a leading box jelly researcher aboard her guide vessel with salves at the ready. Still, her lips were exposed. “I swam for 51 hours,” says Nyad, “and I was stung two nights in a row.”