Veteran U.S. swimmer starts Cuba-Florida trek

Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:24pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad jumped feet first into Cuba's azure waters on Friday in her latest attempt to become the first person to swim from the communist island to Florida without a shark cage.

Nyad, 62, tried to make the 103-mile (166-km) crossing of the Florida Straits last month but was thwarted by asthma, shoulder pain and heavy seas.

"How many times do you get to do something of this big an adventure? How many times do you get to feel this alive, this awake and alive?" the muscular Nyad said to a small gathering of onlookers as she stood on a rock jetty at Havana's Hemingway Marina.

"It's not going to be easy," she said while greasing up parts of her body to prevent chafing. "I know I'm going to feel cold, I know I'm going to run into all kinds of jellyfish, I know the nights are going to be long."

Then, with a shout of "onwards" and another of "courage, she jumped in, clad in a black bathing suit and blue swimming cap.

The skies were partly cloudy and the sea mostly calm as she began methodically stroking her way to Florida on what was expected to be a 60-hour journey.

Her specially equipped boat, from which she will get water and food but that she cannot touch during the swim, accompanied her as did other watercraft including a kayak and jet ski.

She said in a news conference earlier in the day that forecasts called for calm seas through the weekend, giving her a small window of opportunity before seasonal changes in winds and water temperature would make the swim too difficult.   Continued...

<p>U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, (C), poses for pictures with her team in Havana September 23, 2011. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan</p>