Diana Nyad from Cuba to Florida: Breaking open water swimming world records at 64

World record breaker in open swimming, Diana Nyad

World record breaker in open swimming, Diana Nyad

By the age of ten, Diana Nyad had a dream: swimming the 100 miles of open water from Cuba to Florida. She didn’t care if it would break open water swimming world records – she was interested in the destination. Now, at 64, she has finally made that dream a reality, becoming the first person to make the swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. It took nearly 53 hours, and it was her fifth try over the course of 35 years.

Open water swimming has its own challenges, but extreme endurance swimmers have tried a number of long-distance achievements throughout the years, including swimming around Manhattan (Nyad was one of the first women to accomplish that feat, as well). What waters do these swimmers dare to traverse?

Diana Nyad

Aside from swimming around Manhattan, which she did in 1975 in under eight hours, which broke a then 50 year old record, Nyad has conquered the 102 miles between the Bahamas and Florida. While most long-distance open water swimmers make an attempt for the English Channel, Nyad preferred the warmer waters off of Florida. Her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida dawned in 1959, she told Shana Naomi Krochmal of Out magazine before her 2012 attempt at the waters, in the article “The Swimmer.”

“It was just when the Cubans were coming to Miami,” Nyad told Krochmal. “I’d say, ‘You mean it’s right over there? And we can’t go there, and they can’t come here? I wonder if anyone could ever swim over there.’ The earth is four-fifths water. You can swim 100 miles anywhere.”

But though Nyad was breaking records in the 1970s, she failed her first attempt at the Cuba-to-Florida crossing in 1978. After her Bahamas swim in 1979, she decided to give up swimming entirely. But she stayed close to sports, becoming a journalist and a commentator on CBS, Fox and NPR.

The year Nyad turned 60, the death of her mother prompted Nyad to return to her earlier dream. Over the next four years, Nyad made three more attempts before finally succeeding at her goal. She came up with techniques to defeat the jellyfish that had kept her from reaching Florida on previous attempts, using a special cream and a mask to prevent the jellyfish from stinging her tongue. At nearly 53 hours after her departure from Cuba, Nyad reached the Florida shore, where she met reporters on her way to a waiting ambulance.

“I got three messages,” a team of CNN reporters quoted Nyad as saying in the September 3, 2013, article “Never give up: Diana Nyad completes historic Cuba-to-Florida swim.” “One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is [swimming] looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”

Open water news

Nyad isn’t the only open water swimmer to hit the news. Elham Asghari of Iran swam 20k across the Caspian Sea in June, wearing a specially-designed Islamic bathing suit, which weighs 6 kg, in order to keep her modesty, as required by religious authorities. But despite Asghari’s efforts – and a personal record –  Iran’s sports ministry declined to recognize her time because, as she left the water, female characteristics were revealed.

Asghari’s plight has prompted a Change.org petition to the International Swimming Federation to recognize Asghari’s performance. Erik Ortiz, reporting for the New York Daily News in the September 2, 2013, article “Female Iranian swimmer says sports officials won’t recognize her record because of her ‘feminine figure,’” explained the swimmer’s story has touched thousands of fans. “Asghari put a video online pleading for support,” he wrote, “and a Change.org petition now has more than 147,000 signatures.”

Other incredible records

If Cuba to Florida or the Caspian Sea aren’t your preferred venues, where else might you try to break open water swimming world records?

  • If you’re still under 14, you could try to break teen swimmer Annaleise Carr’s record of being the youngest person to swim the 31.6 miles across Lake Ontario.
  • You could make a try for the Triple Crown: swimming around Manhattan Island, across the Catalina Channel and across the English Channel.
  • If three open bodies of water aren’t enough for you, put the Ocean’s Seven on your list: the English and Catalina Channels, Cook Straight in New Zealand, Tsuguru Channel in Japan, the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain, North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, and Molokai Channel in Hawaii.
  • Prefer a formal competition? Train for the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix. The last leg in 2013 was held between Napoli and Capri, Italy.

The winners of the overall 2013 Grand Prix circuit were Damian Blaum of Argentina and Olga Kozydub of Russia.

Do you prefer pools or open water? Tell us if you do any extreme sports in the comments below.

You can learn more about women in sports on Questia.

ay, August 31.

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