- Associated Press - Sunday, August 19, 2012

HAVANA — American Diana Nyad endured several jellyfish stings as the 62-year-old endurance athlete sought to become the first person to swim unaided from Cuba to Florida without a wetsuit or a shark cage.

A team member posted on Ms. Nyad’s Twitter account that the American was steadily stroking onward early Sunday despite jellyfish stings to the lips, feet and legs.

Her goal: to become the first person to set a record 103-mile unaided crossing of the Florida Straits.

“There are so many jellyfish,” said one of the tweets. “Diana is swimming backstroke right now leading with the cap-covered part of her head to minimize contact.”

While sharks were among Ms. Nyad’s concerns, along with potentially treacherous currents and surprise weather changes, jellyfish that tend to surface at night were a worry, her team signaled.

Another tweet said there were jellyfish particles everywhere in the water as Ms. Nyad swam through the night. The tweet added that “the backstroke is working.”

Ms. Nyad, who is less than a week shy of her 63rd birthday, jumped into the warm waters near Havana on Saturday in her latest bid to make the crossing since last summer, when first an asthma attack and then jellyfish stings forced her to abandon separate attempts.

Australian Susie Maroney used a cage when she swam across the Florida Straits in 1997.

Just before departing Saturday afternoon, Ms. Nyad spoke of how the monotony and sensory deprivation of marathon swimming is most intense at night, leading the mind down contemplative paths.

“I do enjoy, when I stop in the middle of the night, and I see the stars, you start thinking out there,” she said. “It becomes very metaphysical. You’re tired, and you’ve been having this metronomic stroke taking you into a different world, all of a sudden you’re out there, and you’re thinking about the meaning of life and the grandeur of the universe and the mystery of it all.”

There will be less time for introspective breaks this trip, however, as shifting forecasts showed Ms. Nyad’s window of flat, calm seas threatening to slam shut a day earlier than expected.

That forced the go-time to be moved up nearly 15 hours to Saturday afternoon instead of around dawn Sunday, a time that had been chosen to minimize Ms. Nyad’s exposure to the jellyfish.

Ms. Nyad’s team expected it would take at least 60 hours to complete the swim to the Florida Keys.

In June, Australian endurance swimmer Penny Palfrey made it 79 miles toward Florida before throwing in the towel in the face of strong currents.

A fiercely driven competitor, Ms. Nyad acknowledged it was hard to watch Ms. Palfrey come close to snatching away her long-held goal.

“If she had succeeded, I would have congratulated her, because I know how difficult it is, more than anybody. And after all, this is not my ocean,” Ms. Nyad said. “But it is my dream. Frankly — how can I lie? — I’m glad that I still have the chance to be first.”



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