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Diana Nyad, 61, begins epic Cuba-Florida swim -- minus shark cage

August 8, 2011 | 11:05 am

Diana_Nyad_swims_from_Cuba_ 
Los Angeles endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 61, is braving shark-infested waters for a 103-mile swim from Cuba to Key West. She's doing it to seek redemption. She's doing it to prove that you're never too old to go for it.

And she's also doing it without a shark cage.

Nyad's motto is "60 is the new 40." As she prepared to slip into the waters at Marina Hemingway in Havana to prove just that, Nyad said to the media: "I'm almost 62 years old.... I'm standing here at the prime of my life; I think this is the prime, when one reaches this age. You still have a body that's strong, but now you have a better mind."

Photos: Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida

Nyad tried this swim before, back in 1978, but she had to quit after 42 hours in the face of huge waves. Now, Nyad, a speaker, author and travel expert, sees this swim as unfinished business. In her goal to become the first person to make the swim without a shark cage, she wants to inspire her contemporaries that it's never too late -- and that they have many years of vitality, strength and service ahead of them.

This swim has been done before -- swimmer Susie Maroney accomplished it in 1997. But Maroney did it in a shark cage. Nyad will have some protection from the sharks that patrol the warm waters between Florida and Cuba:

A support crew includes kayaks equipped with underwater electrical shark shields -- which emit a frequency intended to shoo the sharks away. If that fails,  divers are ready to intervene.

When Nyad announced her plans, the haters pounced. "I get emails from people saying they are shark experts," she told The Times. "They say I will be like a dinner bell out there. I've started deleting those immediately."

Maroney did her crossing in 23 hours, 47 minutes, an astonishing time that has led some to suspect that the cage helped Maroney draft in some fashion. Nyad expects to take about 60 hours. She started Sunday night, taking off from Marina Hemingway after snatching a trumpet to play a few jaunty verses of "Reveille." She expects to arrive on Key West's sandy shores sometime on Wednesday. She will take breaks for food and water, but cannot touch any of the craft accompanying her or she will be disqualified.

It's safe to assume Nyad probably did not spend last week watching Shark Week on the Discovery channel. But she has spent years pursuing this as a dream. Slashing through the red tape alone was daunting, given the frigid relationship between the United States and Cuba, never mind her grueling training regimen that included daily swims that could last up to 12 hours.

Now, Nyad is primed for vindication. She says she's a better athlete today than she was in her 20s.

CNN is accompanying Nyad -- safely, from a boat -- on her trip and plans to parlay it into a TV documentary hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "Diana Nyad: Xtreme Dream." CNN also has a nifty chart to watch Nyad's progress.

What do you think? Do you think Nyad is crazy for putting herself at risk in shark-infested waters? Or are you cheering her on?

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Diana Nyad is on her way. Credit: Franklin Reyes / Associated Press

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