KEY WEST (CBSMiami/AP) – Fifth times the charm for swimmer Diana Nyad who, at 64, feels as if she’s “truly dead center in the prime” of her life.
Sunday morning, crowds congregated at Smathers Beach in Key West to greet and congratulate Nyad as she completed her long-held dream of swimming from Havana, Cuba, to Key West.
Nyad, at 29-years-old, first attempted the swim with a shark cage and didn’t attempt the voyage until 2011—at the age of 61.
Despite Nyad’s age and the fact that she completed her long-time goal when she emerged from the water after her 111-mile Florida Strait swim, she’s already planned a 48 hour swim next month (just a few hours shy of Sunday’s 53-hour swim).
Next month, Nyad, along with celebrities swimming laps alongside her, will swim for two days straight in a specially designed swimming pool that will be erected in New York City to raise money for Hurricane Sandy survivors.
Nyad insists she isn’t trying to prove anything, “I didn’t do this because I was in my 60s. I just happened to be in my 60s,” she says — she acknowledges that her success is having an impact, “not just on people of my generation but on younger people.”
“I have a godson who’s 14 and he texted me yesterday and said, ‘I’m never in my life again going to call someone in their 60s old. It’s over. You just proved that youth doesn’t have anything to do with age.”
On her fifth try, Nyad finished the 110-mile swim from Havana to Key West on Monday in 53 hours, becoming the first to do it without a shark cage. She said that while she is slower than she was back in her 20s when she first gained national attention for swimming around Manhattan and from the Bahamas to Florida, she feels she is actually stronger.
“Now I’m more like a Clydesdale: I’m a little thicker and stronger — literally stronger, I can lift more weights,” Nyad told the AP.
“I feel like I could walk through a brick wall. … I think I’m truly dead center in the prime of my life at 64.”
Nyad says her age and maturity should not be discounted when measuring her most recent success.
“It’s not so much the physical,” she said. “To my mind all of us … we mature emotionally … and we get stronger mentally because we have a perspective on what this life is all about,” Nyad said.
“It’s more emotional. I feel calmer, I feel that the world isn’t going to end if I don’t make it. And I’m not so ego-involved: ‘What are people going to think of me?’” I’m really focused on why I want to do it.”
Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Straits in 1997 at age 22 with a shark cage, which besides providing protection from the predators, has a drafting effect that pulls a swimmer along.
In 2012, 49-year-old Australian Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to stop. This June, Palfrey’s countrywoman Chloe McCardel, 28, made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.
Nyad acknowledged Tuesday that she was glad when McCardel didn’t make it before she had a chance to, but she did add, to laughter from her team, “I didn’t want her to get bitten by jellyfish or die or anything.”
Tuesday night, in Key West, Nyad joined a parade that honored her feat.
Nyad rode around with the top-down in a convertible, and on a Conch Tour Train, which also carried the team that have been by Nyad’s side during the preparations and throughout the weekend’s swim.
Thousands of spectators, mostly residents of Key West, cheered for Nyad as the parade rolled down Duval Street as well as the Old Town District.
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