Sea defeats body, not spirit, of swimmer, 61

Tue Aug 9, 2011 8:07pm EDT
 
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By Michael Haskins

KEY WEST, Florida (Reuters) - An asthma attack, a painful shoulder and battering wind and waves forced 61-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad to abandon early on Tuesday her bid to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

The American, who tried and failed the 103-mile swim more than three decades ago when she was 28, gave up after enduring nearly 30 hours of a crossing expected to last 60, exhausted by her body's limits and the force of the elements.

"I thought this was my time. We set out, thinking the conditions were favorable. They were not. The winds were stronger and the waves were bigger than what I'd expected," she told Reuters after her escort boat Bellisimo brought her to the Key West Yacht Club on Stock Island.

Nyad, a veteran long-distance swimmer, had started out strongly, stroking rhythmically through calm seas after she dived off from the Marina Hemingway on the western outskirts of Cuba's capital Havana at 7:45 p.m. EDT on Sunday.

But, she said in an interview with CNN, she suffered an unexpected bout of asthma that left her gasping for oxygen.

An "excruciating pain" also developed in her right shoulder and these physical handicaps combined with contrary winds and seas that pushed her floundering off course.

"Last night at midnight, I was trembling, the 11 hours of asthma had taken so much from my body ... I just knew that it wasn't mind over matter any more, I was absolutely spent," Nyad, wearing a white bathrobe, told CNN at Stock Island.

She said that toward the end she was "limping" and "slapping around" in the water and even resorted to breast stroke instead of her usual crawl. Her doctor joined her in the water at one point to try to give her relief with an inhaler.   Continued...

 
<p>Diana Nyad cries as she speaks to reporters and fans after arriving back in Key West, Florida August 9, 2011. An asthma attack, a painful shoulder and battering wind and waves forced 61-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad to abandon early on Tuesday her bid to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. REUTERS/Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/Handout</p>