Diana Nyad Nears Florida Keys and 63rd Birthday On Fourth Day of Swim

Update: Sad news! Soon after I posted this update this morning, CNN reported that Diana Nyad had to be pulled from the water due to severe jellyfish stings and a dangerous lightening storm. “With all the threats continuing, Diana decided that it was not a risk that we wanted to take,” Nyad’s operations chief Mark Sollinger said.

After Sunday storms slowed her down, swimmer Diana Nyad made good progress Monday and reached the Straits of Florida early Tuesday morning before being pulled from the water, ending her historic Cuba-to-Florida swim. ,  the Associated Press reports. Nyad is making her third attempt since last summer to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. With about 40 miles left to go, Nyad will likely celebrate her 63rd birthday Wednesday at sea.

You can follow Nyad’s progress on twitter or on her blog, which are currently being updated by crew members accompanying the swimmer in a boat.

Today marks the fourth straight day of Nyad’s swim; she logged her 60th mile after midnight Tuesday. Though she was expected to be nearing the Florida Keys by this time, her team tweeted Monday evening that Nyad “lost six hours progress” due to overnight storms Sunday.

Monday was apparently much better, with clear skies, sunshine and a crew of dolphins spontaneously joining Nyad for a stretch of swim in the evening. But hypothermia is still a worry — Nyad’s team said she has been shivering — as are jellyfish stings, which cut short her two previous attempts this year. “We all know her mind can handle it,” a crew member traveling with Nyad wrote on the swimmer’s blog.

But there will always be a point where a human body can’t go any farther. What no one knows is where that line is drawn in Diana Nyad.”

Nyad made a first — and failed — attempt at the swim in 1978, with a shark cage that time. The then-28-year-old Nyad had already set several world records for long-distance swimming, including swimming the 28-miles around the island of Manhattan in 7 hours and 57 minutes.

In an essay written for AARP last August, Nyad explained why she decided to revisit the Cuba to Florida feat:

As I approached my 60th birthday last year, I was experiencing what millions of people my age tend to feel: disenfranchised, no longer valued, terribly worried that my best days were behind me. Yet in my heart, I knew that the business of life is to live large: You can dream at any age … That’s why I’ve spent the last year training for a swim that I was unable to complete when I was in my 20s: A 103-mile route between Cuba and Florida. I was the first athlete to ever attempt that route, and now I’m more determined than ever to complete it. 

Read the whole thing here. In a recent interview, Nyad said:

When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, ‘I’m going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I’m going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I’m going to adopt a child. It’s not too late, I can still live my dreams.’”

Tuesday Quick Hits: 

  • Obesity in middle-age hastens cognitive decline. A large study published yesterday in the journal Neurology provides more evidence that obesity, high blood pressure and other metabolic risk factors at mid-life can speed up the process of brain deterioration that leads to cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Tony Scott’s death highlights suicide risk among older menWhen director Tony Scott leaped off a bridge Sunday, he joined the ranks of Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and other famous men who committed suicide after learning of a terminal illness; ABC News reported yesterday that 68-year-old Scott had inoperable brain cancer. But senior suicides are far from limited to the famous: In 2009, nearly 6,000 Americans over 65 killed themselves, and suicide is most prevalent in white men over 65.
  • African American boomers overlooked in medical studies. “Rarely do I read any health studies or statistics exclusively for older black adults — unless it has to do with sickle cell anemia,” writes Beverly Mahone on the Huffington Post’s Black Voices blog. “The overwhelming majority of those studies cater to older white adults. But the cold, hard truth is we get the same diseases and we should be studied individually for possible trends in health conditions.”
  • RIP Phyllis Diller. When Diller died on Aug. 20 at age 95, she’d enjoyed one of the longest uninterrupted careers in show biz history.

Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP