Lesbian athlete attempting to swim from Havana to the Florida Keys — again

Posted on 08 Aug 2011 at 11:45am
At 61, former NPR reporter Diana Nyad is swimming for the record books.

In Greek mythology, the naiads were, basically, water nymphs, presiding over fountains, wells, springs, streams and brooks.

Lesbian athlete and former NPR reporter Diana Nyad, 61, hopes to conquer a somewhat bigger body of water as she attempts to swim from Havana, Cuba, to the Florida Keys in 60 hours, without a wetsuit or a shark cage. She left Havana Sunday and intends to complete the 103-mile distance sometime Wednesday, according to this report by ChicagoPride.com.

CNN, the only news media outlet that will have reporters in the boats accompanying Nyad, talked with the swimmer before she left Sunday. She told CNN she believes she is in the prime of her life. She said: “When I walk up on those shores of Florida, I want to prove to the AARP crowd that it’s not too late to go back and write that book or adopt that child. … The joke is the 60s are the new 40s, and it’s true. … I want to be there to say we have many, many years of vitality and strength and service left in us.”

Like anybody who has listened regularly to NPR, I had heard of Diana Nyad. But I never knew that she was a world-record-holding swimmer. In 1970 at age 20, in her first distance swim, she set a women’s world record by swimming 10 miles across Lake Ontario in four hours, 22 minutes. In 1974, she set another world record by finishing the 22-mile Bay of Naples race in Italy in eight hours, 11 minutes. The next year, at age 26, Nyard swam around the island of Manhattan — 28 miles total — in seven hours, 57 minutes.

In 1979, on her 30th birthday, Nyad set a world record for distance swimming — for both men and women — over open water by swimming 102 miles from North Bimini Island in the Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Fla., without a shark cage, and doing so in 27 hours, 30 minutes. That was about 102 miles.

The 1979 record-setting swim came just one year after Nyad’s first attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. That time, she was swimming in a shark cage and had made about 76 miles in almost 42 hours when doctors made her stop. Strong winds and high winds had pushed her off course — she was actually headed toward Texas — and the waves were banging her against the sides of the shark cage, prompting the doctors to halt the effort.

This time around, Nyad doesn’t have to worry about banging into the shark cage, since she is swimming without it. That means she just has to worry about banging into a shark, or rather, having a shark bang into her. Having just watched all eight days of The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week programs, that would be a big concern for me. Nyad will be surrounded by boats that will be sending a mild electrical current into the water to fend off sharks, and she is accompanied by divers and kayakers whose job it is to scare off sharks. I’m not sure that would be good enough for me, but then, I have trouble swimming from one end of the lap pool to the other at the gym.

Nyad told CNN she knows the area through which she’s swimming is home to some dangerous species of shark — tiger sharks and bull sharks, according to Shark Week — but apparently she is confident that her team will keep her safe. And she promises that no sharks will be killed. (That’s a promise I couldn’t make.)

The whole shark thing gives me the heebie-jeebies, in case you didn’t notice, and I couldn’t have made it out of the Havana marina, much less to Florida, when I was in my 20s, much less now that I am in my 50s. So I have a lot of admiration for Diana Nyad, and I hope she makes it all the way, quickly and safely. After all, us older lesbians need all the heroes we can get!!

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