Nyad's swim: Once more, with feeling

AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Diana Nyad is attempting a Cuba-to-Florida swim for a fifth -- and possibly last -- time.

Her friends suggested Maldives or the Gulf of Thailand. Guam, even.

They should have known better.

As Diana Nyad prepares for her fifth attempt to swim one of the most daunting 103-mile stretches on Earth, the legendary 63-year-old endurance swimmer remains nothing if not stubborn. Near death before abandoning her last excursion from Cuba to Florida after 42 hours one year ago, Nyad emerged admittedly disappointed and "grieving," but ultimately steadfast to reach a goal she first began pursuing 35 years ago.

"To go swim 100 miles in the middle of the ocean where there is no story, no, I have to feel something for it. It's not just putting my head down and doing laps," Nyad said Friday, her 50-member crew in a holding pattern while waiting for weather to clear sufficiently to begin.

AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau/Christi Barli

While lightning ultimately ended last year's swim, being stung by jellyfish didn't help Diana Nyad.

"Bonnie [Stoll, Nyad's lead handler as well as her closest friend and supporter for 35 years], suggested Thailand and Guam just to find a 100-mile stretch not as teeming as Mother Nature on steroids, but what can I say? Cuba has me by the short hairs. There's mystique there. Swimmers have been trying to swim it since 1950 and I've tried more than most of them, but it's almost like the last of the grand territories as well as an endurance effort.

"I want to do Cuba. I don't want to do Maldives."

And with that, Nyad reassembled her team and went about trying to figure out how to overcome her biggest obstacle. Stung nine times by venomous box jellyfish during last year's swim, she began experiencing what she called "systemic debilitation" that included partial paralysis, respiratory distress, chills, fever and searing pain.

"I hate to say it," Nyad said of the jellyfish afterward, "but they've taken the joy out of this area of the ocean for me."

The problem is that repellent gels and lotions don't stay applied for long enough, and body coverings don't account for the swimmer's lips. Also, any covering considered an aid in flotation is not allowed. So Nyad said she went back to the expert who was a part of her team last year, Angel Yanagihara, a researcher at the University of Hawaii and foremost expert on box jellyfish whom she calls "a full-out genius" and who developed a silicone mask that should do the trick.

Only one problem.

"It's clunky and very difficult to swim in," Nyad said. "It makes me as much as three-tenths of a mile slower, I take in salt water with it and it's harder on my shoulders and back. But at least I had the gumption to say something more can be done and I'll go to the nth degree."

If she goes too slowly, the mask may end up being the reason she doesn't make it. That is, if sharks, severe sunburn, hypothermia or lightning (which ultimately ended her last attempt) doesn't do it first. If that should happen, however, Nyad promises she can live with it.

And, ultimately, without it.

"I really believe this time that this is the end of the journey," she said. "If I don't make it, and I don't even like to go there because I'm believing and picturing the shore, but let's just say something happens and I don't, I'm going to look in the mirror and say to myself, 'I have nothing more to bring. There is no more research I can do on jellyfish, no more meteorologists to consult. I brought everything there is to this party.'

"I'll walk away, of course, disappointed, I'm not trying to rationalize. But it's not going to make me lose sleep the rest of my life."

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