Diana Nyad retrying Cuba-Florida swim
HAVANA -- Endurance athlete Diana Nyad was preparing Friday for her second attempt this year to swim from Cuba to Florida and set a world record at age 62, a month after a crippling asthma attack forced her from the water gasping for breath.
Nyad told reporters she would spend the day meeting with her support team, carbo-loading and loosening up before setting out from Havana's Hemingway Marina in the evening. She hoped to take advantage of what she called a "magical window" of calm seas and favorable weather forecast to last through the weekend.
The Los Angeles woman said last month that there would be no repeat after her Aug. 7 attempt ended 29 hours and about 50 miles into the 103-mile journey.
"Don't listen to athletes when they say it's over," she told a news conference at the marina Friday. Nyad likened herself to former boxer Roberto Duran, who retired in 1998 at the age of 47 only to re-enter the ring a year later.
Nyad denied that her problems last time had anything to do with her age, saying she could have fought through the choppy waves and "excruciating" shoulder pain. But she hadn't anticipated the 11-hour asthma attack that was provoked by a medicine she had never used before and had her flailing through the water "like a dying, floundering fish."
In the ensuing weeks she concluded that the aborted attempt was not so much a failure as a dress rehearsal, an unplanned but necessary part of a training regimen that included a bunch of shorter swims.
"The asthma took me down, but ironically enough, that 29-hour swim was like a very, very expensive training swim," said Nyad, who earlier this year estimated that it took a half-million dollars to get her to the first attempt.
"I'm in better shape than before. I'm more prepared than ever," she added.
Nyad set a 6 p.m. ET start time -- around when powerful thunderstorms unleash dramatic lightning displays like clockwork on a near-daily basis during the Cuban summer. Seas around Havana were flat as a plate in the early afternoon, however.
If she succeeds, Nyad would break her own 102.5-mile record for open-water swimming without the aid of a shark cage, relying instead on special equipment that surrounds her with an electric current imperceptible to humans but strong enough to keep most of the predators at bay.
Divers in kayaks will be paddling alongside to gently prod away any sharks that make it through.
For the length of the crossing, Nyad will not be allowed to touch the boat if the record is to count. Nor can her team physically aid her other than to pass her food, medicine, a new swimsuit and so on.
She will try to sustain her energy by eating the likes of peanut butter sandwiches and pasta, and said she sings Beatles, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin songs in her head to keep her mind occupied especially during nighttime.
"I never ever -- it's the cardinal rule -- I never look up because it's very depressing to see the horizon with no lights, no nothing. And I never ask my trainer here in the boat what time it is or, 'Are we almost there yet?" Nyad said. "They're going to tell me when we're about 10 hours away."
Nyad first tried to cross the Florida Straits as a 28-year-old back in 1978, when she swam inside a steel shark cage for about 42 hours before ending the attempt.
Now 62 after celebrating her birthday Aug. 22, she has said she hopes to inspire people to lead active lives into their golden years. She also has called the swim symbolic for increasing understanding between the United States and Cuba, two nations torn by five decades of animosity and mistrust.
Marina commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, whom Nyad describes as a cherished friend and who helped with logistics in Cuba, presented her with an honorary membership in the nautical club and called the swim a "bridge of friendship" between the countries.
"He who tries has already succeeded," Escrich said in encouragement, quoting famed Cuban poet and independence hero Jose Marti.
Nyad's team hoped to attempt the swim in 2010, but was unable to make arrangements in time. This year Cuban officials have been very supportive in arranging logistics and news media coverage.
"We're ready for everything that could possibly come our way this time," Nyad said, "and I just can't imagine any ending other than the ending that I want, which is to get all the way across."
"It's a dream a long time coming."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press