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Diana Nyad Says Record-Setting Swim Was About Being ‘Fully Engaged’ in Life

September 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Diana Nyad has made history as the first person to swim the 110-mile Florida Strait. This was Nyad's fifth attempt at the feat, and it took her 53 hours to complete. "I wanted this swim, this endeavor not to just be the athletic record," Nyad, 64, said, "I wanted it to be a lesson for my life that says, be fully engaged."
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, some words of triumph from endurance swimmer Diana Nyad. The 64-year-old became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She covered 110 miles in 53 hours.

At a press conference today in the Florida Keys, Nyad said she’d chased her dream of making the epic swim for decades. Her fifth try was finally successful.

DIANA NYAD: There are so many factors out there against you. If you were going to lay a line in Vegas, it wouldn’t be pretty. You wouldn’t make money unless you bet against it. But we did it.

(APPLAUSE)

DIANA NYAD: For me, as a swimmer, you’re never happy in wind. Any time you are having to breathe and go up and down and fight it, you’re not happy, and you’re not feeling well.

And when I had to put on the jellyfish mask at night, I felt 100 percent prepared for the jellyfish, but every breath when you’re in waves like that coming through that mask, and I started swallowing the 13 hours of Saturday night tremendous volumes of seawater. Then I started vomiting constantly. And as soon as that happens, and you can’t replace that food, the protein, the electrolytes, you’re in a bad place. You’re not strong. You’re cold. And that night was hell on earth.

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I think my favorite, honestly, though, press question for the readers — and several people have asked me, well, do you have any boats that go along with you?

(LAUGHTER)

DIANA NYAD: You know, or you just do it by yourself?

I said, no, no, no, I put a couple of banana in my suit, and I take a portable saltwater distiller on my back. And I carry a bowie knife, and I grab fish and I skin them and eat them alive.

(LAUGHTER)

DIANA NYAD: Yes, I have boats that go along with me.

(LAUGHTER)

DIANA NYAD: The thing about aging is, it’s true that the clock seems to be ticking faster as you get older. It isn’t, but it seems to be.

Time seems to be running out. And I wanted to swim this endeavor not to just be the athletic record. I wanted it to be a lesson for my life that says, be fully engaged. Be so awake and alert and alive every minute of every waking day, because that’s where I had to be for these fortunately years to get this done.

GWEN IFILL: That was Diana Nyad reflecting on her history-making swim from Cuba to Key West.