Diana Nyad, the 62-year-old distance swimmer with a nagging desire to be the first person ever to swim successfully from Cuba to Florida, set off Saturday on her 103-mile journey through the shark- and jellyfish-infested bathwater that separates her from the record books. Though she'd planned on beginning her swim Sunday, forecasts for rough surf prompted her to move the trip up to Saturday, which means that, even as we rub the sleep from our eyes this morning, Diana Nyad is slicing through the fathomless ocean, trying not to get nibbled on by a whole catalogue of aquatic oddities.
If she's successful, Nyad will become the first person to make the swim without the safety of a shark cage (22-year-old Australian Susan Maroney accomplished the feat in 1997). Nyad will be flanked by boats and an electric current should (fingers crossed) keep prowling sharks at a safe distance, though it seems a little needlessly stressful (for me) that Nyad is attempting the swim in such close proximity to Shark Week. This will also be Nyad's fourth attempt to complete the 60-hour swim — she tried once at the peak of her career in 1978, and twice within a 41-hour period last summer when asthma brought on by jellyfish stings forced her to stop.
This go-round, Nyad is wearing a special bodysuit to a) protect herself from jellyfish stings and b) subtly assure everyone that she is, in fact, a superhero (one of Nyad's team members tweeted that the swimmer has already endured several stings to her lips, feet and legs, and "is swimming backstroke right now leading with the cap-covered part of her head to minimize contact"). Earlier this summer, Out featured a profile about Nyad's quixotic goal to swim the distance between Cuba and Florida (which she wishfully believes could help improve Cuban-American relations), in which Nyad admitted that this attempt, whether it succeeds or fails, will be her last.
In June, 49-year-old Penny Palfrey from Australia tried her hand at the Cuba-Florida crossing, only to be stopped at the 93-mile mark by the Gulf Stream. Nyad, who watched that race with interest, is glad that she still has a shot to be the first to make the crossing. "It's not my ocean," she told Reuters, "but it is my dream. How can I lie? I'm glad I still have the chance to be the first."