MIAMI – Marathon swimmer Diana Nyad spent more than 40 hours in the shark-filled waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys, climbing into a boat only to be treated for searing welts left by Portuguese man o’ war stings. Left swollen and red, Nyad had no choice but to end her trek early when medics warned another sting could be deadly.
The 62-year-old soldiered on for a time, cutting eye and mouth holes into a cap she wore over her face to protect against future stings. She surpassed 100,000 strokes, but the stings – which team members said left what looked like branding marks from the jellyfish-like creatures’ tentacles – were too much of a risk.
“I trained this hard for this big dream I had for so many years, and to think these stupid little Portuguese man o’ war take it down,” Nyad told the Associated Press on Sunday, just hours after getting out of the water. “It’s a huge disappointment.”
“You go into convulsions, your spine feels paralyzed. I’ve had kidney stones. Nothing compares to the pain,” Nyad said. “It just took the life force out of me.”
Nyad was making her second attempt in as many months at the Cuba-Florida crossing, a lifelong dream that she first tried as a 28-year-old back in 1978, when she swam inside a steel shark cage for about 42 hours before ending the attempt. A cageless attempt this past August fell short 29 hours in when, gasping for breath, Nyad threw in the towel after an 11-hour asthma attack she blamed on a bad reaction to a new medicine.