KEY WEST, Fla. – Diana Nyad ended her fourth attempt in nearly 35 years to swim across the Straits of Florida on Tuesday, her dream of setting a record thwarted by storms, jellyfish stings, shark threats, hypothermia and swollen lips.
The swimmer was pulled from the water at 12:55 a.m., her crew reported, as a thunderstorm raged and winds and waves tossed her support boats around. Her team had previously tweeted that she came out of the water at 7:42 a.m., and offered no explanation for the change.
In a blog posting, crew member Candace Hogan wrote that Nyad angrily shook her head after being pulled from the water and planned to return to finish the swim after the storms subsided.
“When can I get back in?” Hogan said. “I want full transparency that I was out. But I have plenty left in me, and I want to go on.”
She was aboard a boat headed to the Florida Keys and was likely to arrive Tuesday afternoon.
Nyad, who turns 63 today, was making her third attempt since last summer to become the first person to cross the Florida Straits without a shark cage. She also made a failed try with a cage in 1978.
Nyad had previously said this would be her last attempt, though she made the same promise to her friends and handlers last September as she stepped from her boat onto a Key West dock, her lips and limbs red and swollen from jellyfish stings.
“I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying and failing and trying and failing this, but it’s a bear of a swim,” Nyad said in Key West last week. “I would hate to stand here again with you next year and say, ‘Well, didn’t make it again.’”
She started this effort Saturday in Havana and lasted longer, and made it farther, than in her previous tries, her team said. She swam this time for more than 41 hours.
“She realized that the obstacles against this swim were too great and agreed at dawn to return to Key West by boat,” Hogan said.
Another team member, Vanessa Linsley, told The Associated Press the swimmer encountered a triple threat of obstacles.
“Instead of getting hit with one doozy they got hit with three,” Linsley said, “They got hit with the weather, they got hit with the jellyfish and they got hit with the sharks all at the same time.”
Nyad was stung nine times by box jellyfish Monday night alone, the team blog reported.
She got out of the water after a second consecutive night of storms. On Monday evening, the crew was improvising ways to prevent hypothermia and to fend off more swelling of her lips and tongue. Though she’s swimming in 85-degree waters, because that is lower than the body’s core temperature, it will reduce her body temperature over time. Her team said she had been shivering.
“We all know her mind can handle it,” Candace Hogan, a crew member traveling with Nyad, wrote on the swimmer’s blog. “But there will always be a point where a human body can’t go any farther. What no one knows is where that line is drawn in Diana Nyad.”
In 1978, American marathon swimmer Walter Poenisch swam from Havana to Marathon, Fla. in a shark cage made out of aluminum tubing and chicken wire that broke apart in the rough seas. The 65-year-old Poenisch was a former cookie baker from Grove City, Ohio, who used flippers and snorkels during the swim. Reports later surfaced that said he had faked previous marathon swims by travelling part of the distance in a boat.
Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Straits in 1997, but she used a shark cage. In June, another Australian, Penny Palfrey, made it 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt.
Nyad had been training for three years for the feat. She was accompanied by a support team in boats, and a kayak-borne apparatus shadowing her to keep sharks at bay by generating a faint electric field. A team of handlers was on alert to dive in and distract any sharks that made it through.
She took periodic short breaks to rest, hydrate and eat high-energy foods such as peanut butter.