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Congratulations to Diana Nyad
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/02/13
Last updated on: 09/02/13
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Diana Nyad addresses the crowd of supporters in Key West following her historic feat.

Congratulations to the amazing Diana Nyad, who has made history by becoming the first person to swim the Florida straits from Cuba to the Florida Keyes without the security of a shark cage. The long-distance swimmer arrived at the shoreline of Key West just before 2:00 p.m. on September 2, 2013 after 53 hours in the water. The 64-year-old was greeted by cheering crowds of fans as she triumphed on her fifth attempt to achieve a "life-long dream."

As Alistair Jamieson and Tracy Connor reported on NBC News, "Her tongue and lips were swollen by sun and seawater, and she had abrasions in her mouth from a special silicone mask meant to keep the jellyfish at bay. At two miles out, Nyad seemed to realize that she was on the cusp of success and she paused to thank assistants gathered on 10 boats."

"I am about to swim my last two miles in the ocean," she told her handlers as she closed in on Key West. "This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very very glad to be with you," she added, praising her team. "So let's get going so we can have a whopping party."

Only one swimmer, Australian Susie Maroney, had previously crossed the Florida straits. But during Maroney's 1977 swim, she used a protective cage.

Nyad departed on her quest Saturday morning and arrived a day earlier than original estimates.

As Linda Rapp observes in her glbtq entry on Nyad that the determined athlete first earned fame as a long-distance swimmer and then went on to become a respected sports commentator on television and radio. In recent years, she has spoken out on issues of glbtq rights, especially in sports.

Nyad's career in swimming took her to exotic locales around the globe, including the Suez Canal, the North Sea, the Nile, the Parana River in Argentina, the Bay of Naples, and the Great Barrier Reef. Her 102.5-mile journey from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979 set a record that stood until today as the longest swim by an athlete not using a shark cage or fins.

The early effort by Nyad that most drew the attention of the American public was a swim around Manhattan Island in 1975.

Although Nyad's lesbianism was something of an open secret, she was not among the most visible members of the glbtq community until 1999, when she participated in a forum sponsored by the New York Times on gay and lesbian athletes that also included Dave Kopay--a retired football player who had the courage to become the first man in one of the four major United States team sports to come out as gay--and Billy Bean, a retired major league baseball player.

Nyad also hosted an episode of the PBS series In the Life (April 2007) entitled "The Last Closet" that dealt with the prejudice faced by glbtq athletes. The program featured an interview with retired professional basketball player John Amaechi, who recounted the painful experience of having to conceal his homosexuality during his career.

Nyad narrated the documentary Training Rules (2008, directed by Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker), concerning the lawsuit filed in 2006 by student-athlete Jennifer Harris against Pennsylvania State University and its women's basketball coach, Rene Portland, whose "training rules" had, for over two decades, included "no drinking, no drugs, and no lesbians."

Some thirty years after her active career as a long-distance swimmer Nyad returned to the water to attempt a marathon swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage in August 2011 on the eve of her sixty-second birthday. She had first tried to make the passage between the two countries in 1978 but had to be pulled--protesting--from the water after high winds and swelling waves had driven her hopelessly off course.

Nyad's second effort at the swim ended after approximately twenty-nine hours, the last twelve of which she spent battling an asthma attack and pain in her right shoulder.

"I do not feel at peace with the way this ended," she said at the time, [but] "I feel proud of what I did. . . . I would have tried anything to get there. I would have crawled or dog-paddled to the shore if I'd needed to. If I had seen the lights of the Florida shoreline, I would have found a way to get there. . . . I showed what a human being can do, but I didn't complete what a swimmer can."

The following month Nyad made yet another attempt that she also had to abandon after being stung so many times by Portuguese man o' war jellyfish that medics warned that risking another strike could endanger her life.

Warm congratulations to Diana Nyad on her amazing achievement and, even more, on her refusal to give up.

The newsclip below depicts Nyad arriving in Key West and addressing her admirers.

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