For long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, reaching age 60 was a revelation of how much more she could get out of life.
Last August, “I decided I would do something at 60 that I couldn’t even do at 30—swim from Cuba to Florida.”
Grueling practices of up to 15 hours in Mexico and St. Maarten tested her body and spirit. Now, nearly a year later, she feels ready to take the plunge.
Nyad will attempt her first marathon in three decades. On July 10, she will embark on a 24-hour race against herself, plowing through the Gulf Stream off the Florida coast and back to the shoreline. A team of trainers, shark divers, navigators and supporters will accompany her on chartered boats.
Later this summer, the Los Angeles resident hopes to fulfill her ultimate dream—swimming from Cuba to Key West. That’s 103 miles and about 60 hours in open water. “Once government approvals are formal,” Nyad says, “when the right pocket of weather presents itself, the Cuba swim will take place.”
Brave enough to swim without a protective shark cage each time, she will rely instead on shark-repelling devices aboard the kayaks sailing near her. They emit “an elliptical field of electricity,” she says.
“Diana Nyad is an anomaly,” says her best friend, Bonnie Stoll, a former professional racquetball player. “I don’t know anyone else in the world at any age who would attempt this. This is about Diana proving to herself that her body and her mind can still do something like this.”
Stoll, 58, will root for Nyad every stroke of the way. “I’ll be sticking a spoonful of peanut butter in her mouth” every couple of hours, Stoll says, while Nyad treads water. “She is not allowed to touch the boat at any time.”
Nyad’s 31-year-old nephew, Timothy Wheeler, also will be onboard and plans to produce a documentary of his aunt’s endeavors. Meanwhile, CNN will broadcast the expeditions live for television viewers.
A natural for swimming
Born in New York City, Nyad moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with her parents, younger brother and sister when she was about 7 years old. “It was a mecca for swimming,” she says. “The [International] Swimming Hall of Fame was built in my hometown.”
She took up the sport at the urging of her fifth-grade geography teacher, who was also the school’s swim coach. “He said any kid who comes out for the swim team gets an A in geography class,” she recalls. “I went out that day.”
Seeing the 10-year-old take to the water so naturally, the coach predicted, “ ‘You’re going to be the best swimmer in the world,’ ” Nyad recalls. With that kind of encouragement, “I just caught fire."