Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim the treacherous waters from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage on Monday, arriving in Key West two days after starting her 110-mile trek.
Nyad, 64, unsuccessfully tried to swim the Florida Strait four times, mostly recently in 2012. The New York City native's latest journey began Saturday morning when she jumped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana. As she closed in on the Key West shores, a couple of hundred people gathered on the beach to watch her make the final leg of the swim.
"I am about to swim my last 2 miles in the ocean," Nyad told her 35-member team from the water, according to her website. "This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very, very glad to be with you."
Nyad told supporters a silicone mask she wore to protect her face from jellyfish stings caused bruises inside her mouth, making it difficult for her to speak. Doctors traveling with Nyad had been worried about her slurred speech and her breathing, but they didn't intervene, according to Nyad's website.
Nyad's previous failed attempt ended amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and jellyfish stings that left her face significantly swollen. In her latest attempt, Nyad wore a full bodysuit, gloves, booties and a mask at night, when jellyfish rise to the surface. Before the swim, she said the kit would slow her down, but Nyad believed it would be effective.
"I admit there's an ego rush," Nyad said before the swim began. "If I — three days from now, four days from now — am still somehow bringing the arms up and I see the shore ... I am going to have a feeling that no one yet on this planet has ever had."
Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Strait in 1997 with a shark cage, which besides protection from the predators, has a drafting effect that pulls a swimmer along.
In 2012, Australian Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt. This June, her countrywoman Chloe McCardel made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.
In 1978, Walter Poenisch, an Ohio baker, claimed to have made the swim using flippers and a snorkel. Critics say there was insufficient independent documentation to verify his claim.
Nyad first rose to national prominence in 1975 when she swam the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in just under eight hours. Four years later, Nyad swam the 102 miles from North Bimini, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Fla., in 27.5 hours.
Nyad is also an author of three books, a motivational speaker and has been a reporter and commentator for NPR.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.