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Nyad Endured Storm and Jellyfish Stings Before Ending Marathon Cuba-Florida Swim

August 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Diana Nyad, a 62-year-old swimmer, made her fourth attempt at swimming the distance between Cuba and Florida in order to become the first person to do so without a shark cage. She made it about halfway before being plucked out of the water for her safety. Margaret Warner talks to Nyad about her historic, final effort.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And next: A marathon swim comes to an early end.

Margaret Warner has our story.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MARGARET WARNER: An exhausted Diana Nyad arrived in Key West, Florida, today, but not the way she had hoped.

DIANA NYAD, endurance swimmer: This is history out here. No one’s ever done it. And, really, in this day and age, the Earth’s gotten to be a pretty small place. All the mountains have been climbed. All the deserts have been crossed, but this piece of ocean has never been done by a swimmer without a cage.

MARGARET WARNER: The 62-year-old started with a splash on Saturday, but today her fourth attempt to swim 103 miles from Cuba to the U.S. again fell short.

This photo shows Nyad’s sun-burned and swollen face after being pulled from the water just before 1:00 this morning. Stormy weather prompted that decision by Nyad’s support team. Nyad left the shore near Havana, Cuba, on Saturday. After nearly 42 hours of swimming, she got about halfway to the Florida Keys.

Before leaving, Nyad said she hoped there would be a larger message in her effort.

DIANA NYAD: Instead of staying on the couch for a lifetime, and letting this precious time go by, why not be bold? Be fiercely bold and go out and chase your dreams.

MARGARET WARNER: A champion marathon swimmer in her 20s, she first tried to make the Cuba-to-Florida swim in 1978. Had she finished this time, she would have completed the longest open ocean swim without the protection of a shark cage.

I spoke to her by phone as her boat approached Key West.

Diana Nyad, thank you for speaking with us.

What forced you finally to get out of the water?

DIANA NYAD: You know, Margaret, it was a long list of variables over which a person doesn’t have control.

I trained for this exactly right. I put together a team that was world-class in every dimension, from the world-leading jellyfish expert, to shark guys who dive with them every day of their lives, navigation people who are brilliant mathematicians, meteorologists who know what they’re doing in this part of the world, everybody world-class.

But every single thing we came up against was an obstacle, you know, huge tropical depression storms. The jellyfish, how could it be that a tiny little animal that has a tentacle no bigger than a strand of a hair, I mean, literally, no bigger, no thicker than a strand of a hair, could be out there in this vast wide ocean, and I’m wearing a suit and creams and repellent, and the only square inch of my entire body that is open and exposed are my lips, because I have got to breathe, how could that tentacle find those lips?

I think it’s just a story of how jellyfish have proliferated in the world’s oceans today. It’s going to be the biggest story of the oceans over the next 10 years, jellyfish.

MARGARET WARNER: And how do you feel? I mean, you have been pursuing this dream for years, working so hard at it.

DIANA NYAD: I have.

And I — it’s going to take a Herculean effort, honestly, to leave it behind. I’m not a quitter. And, sometimes, though, you just find, you know, reality. And this is just a big, big swarm of Mother Nature, but, honestly, for me, it’s mostly the jellyfish.

I just didn’t buy into a sport where you are out among, you know, very in some cases lethal animals. I trained to come across and be smart about navigation and, you know, deal with the other elements of Mother Nature.

But, you know, I tell you, I was absolutely frightened. I swam through three nights, and each night was stung badly, no matter what. So, I guess I feel crushed in some ways. As you say, it was history, and for me, it was a big live life larger than dreaming.

And on the other hand, look at what we did. Look what we put together. You know, I became a better athlete at the age of 62 than I ever was in my 20s. And I learned so much. I want to start writing what this expedition brought in terms of education on so many subjects. It was thrilling. The whole experience, honestly, was thrilling.

MARGARET WARNER: Most people, even athletes, would never attempt something like this. How do you explain your determination to do this with such great risk?

DIANA NYAD: You know, I never did look at it as such great risk.

Back in my 20s, when I would do these swims, I would be in shark-infested waters. And I never used the word risk, but now, you know, as I said, the oceans have changed because of the jellyfish. I will — I’m not afraid to admit to you that I’m afraid of them. I really am.

It’s one thing to be stung and just have some searing pain on your skin that you can breathe and count your way through and get over it. It’s another thing to have an animal sting you and go into paroxysms and have your lungs and heart slowed down and taken down. And it’s a very different thing. You’re helpless. You’re helpless in the face of those animals.

MARGARET WARNER: And what does it actually feel like?

DIANA NYAD: Intense, intense, ripping pain, as if you have had a poker seared across your skin, just immediate and intense, like a flame, and then you start in with the chills, the shivers. You start trembling and not thinking very clearly.

MARGARET WARNER: So, are you going to try again?

DIANA NYAD: You know, I just can’t.

As I said, I’m not a quitter, but I have to face what was out there, and I have no regrets. I look back and I look at the team we assembled, I look at the effort that I put in, the whole thing was majestic.

And I’m very sad. I will cry some tears, no doubt, over not getting where I wanted, which is to walk up on the shore victorious.

MARGARET WARNER: What message should other people your age take from this?

DIANA NYAD: You know, it’s not only people my age.

But, you know, to me, life is about getting to the end with no regrets. So, if you have dreams, you know, rather than being afraid, be bold. Go out and chase them. As I said, I have spent the last two years of my life immersed in the intensity of the quest.

And what should I do now, say none of it was worthwhile because I didn’t make it to the shore? You know, all of it was worthwhile. I was so passionate and all of my senses were so heightened. And it was the people that I met that came on to the team and gave, you know, their expertise and their will and their courage.

It was a magnificent experience. I wouldn’t change anything about it, except for that final walk up on the beach.

MARGARET WARNER: Diana Nyad, thanks for talking with us. And bravo for your heroic effort.