A dream shared at TEDMED: Diana Nyad swims from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage

Diana Nyad at TEDMED2011

Extreme swimmer Diana Nyad has completed her longest swim yet … at the age of 64. Over the weekend, Nyad attempted the swim from Havana, Cuba, to the coast of Florida for the fifth time, and this time finished the ambitious 110-mile swim. The swim took Nyad a total of 53 hours — and made her the first person to complete this swim without the security of a shark cage.

Diana Nyad: Extreme swimming with the world’s most dangerous jellyfishIn her talk from TEDMED 2011, Nyad explains why she decided to embark on this swim — which she first attempted in 1978, when she was in her 20s, and failed. Nyad admits that she hadn’t swum a single stroke for more than 31 years when she decided to get back in the pool and train for this swim.

“A couple of years ago, I was turning 60 … I started grappling with this existential angst of what little I had done with my life,” says Nyad in this hugely inspiring talk. “I decided the remedy to all this malaise was going to be for me to chase an elevated dream, an extreme dream, something that would require utter conviction and unwavering passion, something that would make me be my best self in every aspect of my life … I decided that it was an old dream that was lingering.”

Nyad tried the swim in 2011, but wasn’t able to complete it. As she explains in this talk, it wasn’t that her body wasn’t ready. It was the terrible stings of the box jellyfish. “I was on fire — excruciating, excruciating pain,” says Nyad. “At 41 hours, this body couldn’t make it.”

After her TEDMED talk, Nyad tried the swim again — twice — with a full bodysuit and mask, but her attempts were cut short because of boat trouble, bad weather and treacherous currents. But this weekend, Nyad was able to complete the swim with the help of her support team. Upon washing up on the Florida shore, Nyad was taken to the hospital for observation because of slurred speech, but was cleared as healthy. She says that this time around, the worst part of the swim was the sunburn.

“I have three messages,” Nyad said to reporters after the swim. “One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.”

Nyad received much love on Twitter for finally reaching this goal, four decades in the making. Among others, President Barack Obama tweeted, “Congratulations to @DianaNyad. Never give up on your dreams.”

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