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Diana Nyad Plans Swim from Cuba to Florida

On the bucket list of things to do in retirement, swimming from one country to another over two and a half days probably wouldn't make it on most people's lists, but for 61-year-old Diana Nyad, swimming is her life, her passion.

This coming July the New York-born world renowned athlete and former world record holder plans to fulfil a dream, reviving an attempt on swimming from Cuba to Florida, a feat that eluded her 32 years ago, even when she was in her prime.

It's a treacherous 103-mile body of water infested with sharks and jelly fish but that isn't deterring this remarkable woman who now bides her time as a motivational speaker and sports contributor for Radio KCRW.

Despite the use of a protective shark cage her first attempt in 1978 was scuppered by eight-foot waves and after enduring a battering for 41 hours she was forced to abort. Hopefully this year it will be third time lucky. A planned attempt in 2010 had to be postponed after months of preparation because of unsuitable sea conditions.

All being well, Diana will be the first person to complete the distance without a shark cage, and also the oldest. For the shark threat, she has enlisted the help of three Kayakers from St. Maarten who will police the waters ahead of her. The kayaks will be fitted with electronic shark repellent devices.

The biggest threat she predicts will come from jelly fish stings but support crew are prepared with various medications to apply, while she is in the water.

She made her comeback to long distance swimming last year, completing a 24-hour swim in Florida, and happily admits that she is in better physical shape now at this point in her training build up than she was a year ago.

"We're aiming to be ready for July 1, that means all the preparation done, including visas and permits issued, and all the crew waiting in Key West," Diana states. "It's a large operation, like an expedition. We've got about 25 people, navigators, managers, boat crew, weather routers, media, medical people, shark experts, you name it.

"That's the time when the water starts to get to its hottest. I need the hottest possible ocean. As soon as we hit the right forecast we'll be off to Havana. We won't know the exact starting point probably until the night before. And we don't know exactly where landfall will be ... I'd love to wind up in Key West but it will depend on trajectory of the Gulf Stream."

Her training is mostly taking place in St. Maarten up to June 1 where she is based at the exclusive La Samanna Hotel, the hotel kindly sponsoring her accommodation and use of facilities such as spa and gym.

Aside from swimming, her training includes Yoga, abdominal work, weights, and calisthenics, to keep flexible and strong. She estimates she's about 15lbs over weight, mostly muscle weight, but that's good for insulation against cold.

St. Maarten was chosen as a training ground because of her contacts on the island and due to the similarity of water temperature expected between Cuba and Florida.

No wetsuits are allowed in long distance swimming and she is not allowed to exit the water. Crew on the support boat accompanying her will pass her food and drink, typically energy gels, powders, liquids, and protein food.

Diana's record breaking achievements came within a ten year period from 1969 to 1979, the year in which she completed a 102-mile swim from Bimini in the Bahamas, to Florida. She broke numerous world records including a swim around Manhattan Island in 1975 in seven hours 57 minutes. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1986 and into the Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003.

Asked what motivates her to attempt a marathon swim at this point in life, she says: "Last year when I turned 60 I said to myself I don't like being 60. Like a lot of people my age we've got a lot of life left compared to our parents. We want to be still relevant to our society. I want to be relevant, feel powerful, and prove that I can commit to something very difficult."

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Robert Luckock is a British journalist and freelance writer residing in St. Maarten since 1984. He is currently The Daily Herald's correspondent for French St. Martin and was one of All at Sea's very first contributors.

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