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Diana Nyad encounters difficulties in Cuba to Florida swim

September 24, 2011 | 12:49 pm

It was a difficult night for long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who is trying for the third time, to fulfill her quest to become the first woman to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

In the first 12 hours of the swim, Nyad suffered debilitating jellyfish stings and had some breathing issues, but Saturday morning she was continuing toward her goal, one stroke at a time.

Nyad, 62, started the swim at Friday at 6:05 p.m. EDT. One hour later, she encountered a Portuguese Man O War that stung her on both arms, the side of her body and her face, according to a report on her blog.

“She is trying to clear herself of tentacles and continue to swim,” her team tweeted just after it happened.

After treading water for an hour she was able to recover from the stings and continue, but there were more obstacles ahead. 

A post on Nyad’s blog titled “A challenging night” said that in the early morning Nyad’s stroke pace dropped from 52 to 55 strokes per minute to 48.

At 5:50 a.m. she stopped swimming completely, complaining that she could not breathe properly and was having trouble getting oxygen to her muscles.

Her last attempt at this swim was foiled in part by an unexpected bout of asthma, but this time Nyad was prepared.

She received a prednisone shot along with oxygen and other medications and after treading water for an hour, continued the swim at 8 a.m.

Her team remains hopeful that Nyad will complete the swim this time. According to Nyad's blog, her chief handler, Bonnie Stoll, told Nyad, "You're doing better, I can see it." And Candace Hogan, who has been a part of most of Diana’s swims since 1978, said Diana can recover and complete this swim.

Recent tweets indicate that her stroke is getting stronger, and her rest times each hour are growing shorter.

Before she got in the water, Nyad was convinced she would make it this time.

“This weekend is my magical moment,” she tweeted on Friday night. “I can’t imagine any other ending than making it to the other shore.”

This is Nyad's third attempt at this 103-mile swim. She tried for the first time in 1978, quitting after 42 hours in the face of huge waves.

Then, on Aug. 8 of this year, she tried again, abandoning that effort after 29 hours, battling ocean swells and suffering from shoulder pain and asthma. Media reports said she was vomiting when she was pulled out of the water. 

“I am not sad,” she told CNN, which was accompanying her at the time. “It was absolutely the right call.”

Immediately after the swim, she said that she would not try again, but she later expressed second thoughts about that statement to L.A. Times columnist Bill Dwyre.

"What I said right afterward is not necessarily true," she told Dwyre in mid-August. "You've got me a week later. Right after, it would be like talking to a boxer on the canvas, still on his back and looking up at the bright lights.

"Now, I do not feel at peace the way this ended," she added.

At a news conference in Havana, Nyad told reporters that despite her age she is in the best shape of her life.


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Photo: Diana Nyad starts her attempt to swim to Florida from Havana Friday. Credit: Desmond Boylan / Reuters