The morning after her crew tweeted that “all hell broke loose’’ during a wicked storm, swimmer Diana Nyad is back to moving at a steady pace.
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The 62-year-old from Florida is on her fourth attempt to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Since leaving the Havana shore on Sunday morning, she has dealt with jellyfish stings on her neck, lips, hand and forehead as well as a nasty storm that rolled in Sunday night.Story: Swimmer Nyad steady in Cuba-Fla. record attempt
Mark Sollinger, the operations chief for Nyad’s 50-person support crew, checked in with Lester Holt live from the boat alongside Nyad on TODAY Monday.
“Things couldn’t look better right now,’’ Sollinger said. “The sun is up, and Diana is on what we call the streamer, which is what she follows. Her stroke looks good, and we’re moving in the right direction. A good stroke count for her is 50 (per minute), and she’s on that number right now.’’
If the 103-mile journey goes as planned, Nyad should reach the shore of Key West on Tuesday. Her ominous beginning included attacks from jellyfish, which rise to the surface at night and then retreat once the sun comes out in the morning. Nyad’s previous attempt at achieving the feat ended last September after about 40 hours and 90 miles of swimming following a series of box jellyfish stings.
“The first night we had a rough night,’’ Sollinger said. “She had several jellyfish stings, as did some of our shark team members who are in the water all the time. We have the foremost jellyfish expert with us this time around from the University of Hawaii, who got to Diana immediately and administered the proper care for those jellyfish stings. She did the Diana Nyad thing and just powered right through that night.’’
Nyad's special wetsuit, which covers everything but her face, has not completely insulated her from the stings.
“That’s been super effective,’’ Sollinger said. “Unfortunately, you need every piece of skin on your body covered to have full protection against these things. There’s no way really to cover your lips. The stings that she encountered the first night were on her lips.’’
A kayak-borne apparatus has been shadowing Nyad while generating a faint electric field to repel sharks. A team of shark handlers is also ready to dive in to distract sharks at a moment’s notice.
Nyad, who turns 63 on Wednesday, has maintained a positive mental attitude. Between periodic breaks to rest, hydrate and eat high-energy foods, she can often be found singing to keep the crew entertained.
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“Yesterday we had an awesome day,’’ Sollinger said. “The weather was incredible, we all got to see that classic Diana Nyad stroke, and she came up for a couple of beats, and she was actually singing some Beatles songs to the crew to lighten everything up. It’s been amazing to see.’’
Nyad's first attempt at age 28, in 1978, ended after 41 hours when turbulent seas left her battered and delirious. Her second go, in August 2011, came to a halt following an 11-hour asthma attack and shoulder pain after 28 hours and 51 miles in the water.
She was 28 hours into the estimated 60-hour journey Monday morning. Her progress is regularly updated on her website, diananyad.com. Australian Susan Maroney is the only person to swim from Cuba to the United States, and she did it at 22 years old in May 1997 while using a shark cage. Exactly when Nyad could reach land on Tuesday is hard to ascertain, but she is determined to make history.
“There are so many variables involved in this with Mother Nature that it’s really tough for us to give you an exact time and even an exact place because so many different things can happen,’’ Sollinger told TODAY.
“I am not going to quit until I stand on the floor of the shore in Florida,’’ Nyad told NBC News before beginning her journey. “I’m going to make it across.’’
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