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Aussie Has Whale Of Shot At Swim Mark

By Associated Press

Fighting choppy seas, Susie Maroney entered the water off Havana on Saturday in her bid to become the first person to swim 110 miles across the Florida Straits to Key West. By nighttime, she was more than a third of the way there.

“She looks really good and she’s feeling really good,” said Connie Pignatiello, president of the company that owns a boat traveling alongside the swimmer. “When she was out of the (shark) cage this afternoon, a 40-foot whale swam right by and (she) was pretty excited.”

Cheered on by 200 spectators, the 21-year-old Australian long-distance swimmer took to the seas inside a protective 28-by-8 foot shark cage topped by a canopy. She postponed her start twice because of poor weather, and munched on marshmallows and seasickness pills.

In more than 50 tries by swimmers to cross the Straits recognized by the Swimming Hall of Fame, none has been successful. If all goes well, Maroney’s journey should take about 50 hours and end Monday.

After 20 miles, Maroney decided to swim outside the shark cage because the waves were tossing it around, “causing too much water to go down her throat,” Pignatiello said.

But calmer seas and winds farther in the Straits allowed Maroney to use the cage, keep up a steady pace and swim 42 miles by Saturday night, Pignatiello said.

But her battle with the Straits of Florida - salty with plenty of sharks and stinging jellyfish - is being viewed as more than a pure sporting achievement.

It could be a path to help improve deteriorating U.S.-Cuba relations, she said.

“I know these two countries are having problems, and hopefully this swim will show just how close these two countries are geographically and that they could get along,” Maroney said in a phone interview.