Jellyfish Stings Too Much Even For Diana Nyad's Iron Will
Like many of you, I was rooting for 62-year-old Diana Nyad to succeed this weekend on her second attempt this year to swim 103 miles from Havana to Key West and finally conquer a challenge that she first tried several decades ago at age 28.
But it was not to be. At about 11 a.m. Sunday, Nyad, who continued swimming despite multiple stings from jellyfish and a Portuguese Man-of-War that had caused her face and body to swell, was forced to quit after medics advised that the toxin level was building and another sting could be life-threatening, according to her blog.
Nyad managed to swim 67 miles, about two-thirds of the way to Key West, between about 6 p.m. Friday evening and Sunday morning. Only one other swimmer has ever managed to make a documented swim from Havana to Key West, and Nyad would have been the first to achieve it without the use of a protective shark cage.
"The medical team said I should not go another two nights in the water and risk additional likely Man of War stings, which would have a long-term cumulative effect on my body," Nyad wrote.
Nyad, who had trained intensely for the event, was confident that her endurance, swimming ability and willpower would prevail this time. But just as she was thwarted by a freak shoulder injury and asthma attack on her initial attempt in August, her undoing was yet another of the inevitable hazards that confront open-water ocean swimmers.
Nyad was only a few hours into her swim on Friday evening when she suffered her first sting from a Man-of-War, according to a series of tweets posted by her team. Nyad managed to untangle herself from the creature's tentacles, but she was stung on both arms and the side of her body and her face. Jonathan Rose, a diver assisting her, also was stung numerous times. Nyad was forced to stop swimming forward and tread water for an hour and a half while she received treatment and put on a new swimsuit to cover her injuries. When she resumed, she struggled along slightly more slowly than her usual robust pace of 52 to 55 strokes per minute.
Early Saturday, two University of Miami doctors caught up with Nyad's flotilla and gave the swimmer a shot of prednisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug used to treat severe allergic reactions, and gave her other medications and oxygen, as well. Nyad, though ill, wanted to continue, and as dawn broke, her chief handler, Bonnie Stoll, noted that she appeared to be swimming more strongly again. As the day progressed, she continued to improve her pace, nearly reaching her norm.
In the early afternoon, Nyad encountered yet another potential hazard, an Oceanic white-tipped shark, according to a post on her blog. But her divers managed to face off the shark, part of a species that is believed to have attacked shipwreck victims over the centuries. To everyone's relief, the immense predator, which itself is an endangered species, swam away without incident.
Just before 8 p.m. Saturday, however, Nyad's luck ran out, when she was again stung in the face and eyes by a jellyfish. This time, the swimmer was forced to leave the water and climb aboard her support boat, the Voyager, and spend several hours receiving medical treatment, according to a blog post. At 12:20 a.m., Nyad decided that she had recovered enough to continue, and got back in the water, starting again at the exact same spot. She swam continuously for the rest of the night, knifing through the water in darkness illuminated by a crescent moon, with her handlers monitoring her from kayaks.
Despite the bad breaks thrown her way by fate, Nyad seemed undaunted, and she writes in her blog that giving one's all is the most important thing, rather than success or failure. "For each of us, isn't life about determining your own finish line?" she says. "This journey has always been about reaching your own other shore no matter what it is, and that dream continues."
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