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American long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage on Monday – succeeding on her fifth try in 35 years to make the crossing.
Setting off from Havana, Nyad's 110-mile swim took about 53 hours, breaking the record for the longest ocean swim without a shark cage or flippers. She had earlier said this was her final attempt.
The marathon swimmer was met on her arrival by crowds in Key West, Florida.
"I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you're never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team," she said on the beach.
Her lips were swollen, and her face looked sunburned when she staggered ashore to aides waiting to give her medical treatment. She was put on a stretcher and hydrated with an IV drip before taken to a hospital.
Just two miles from shore, Nyad stopped to thank her support crew and according to her blog said, "This is a lifelong dream of mine, and I'm very, very glad to be with you … so let's get going so we can have a whopping party!"
Her last try in 2012 was cut short by boat trouble, storms, an unfavorable current and jellyfish stings. This time, Nyad wore a full bodysuit, gloves, booties and a mask at night – when jellyfish rise to the surface.
The support team accompanying her had equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her, which was designed to keep sharks at bay. A boat also dragged a line in the water to help keep her on course.
Doctors aboard a support vessel said earlier on Monday the swimmer's tongue and lips were swollen, her speech was slurred and concerns were raised about her breathing, her blog said.
Officials estimated it could take up to three days to complete the swim, but Nyad's crew members said she had a favorable current.
Nyad began the swim on Saturday morning and was supported by five supply boats that provided her with food and water. The endurance swimmer stopped every 40 minutes to eat, taking bites of scrambled egg and pasta, her blog reported.
Nyad first attempted the crossing at age 28 in 1978. On that occasion she gave up after covering 76 miles in 42 hours with the aid a cage. She tried three times in 2011 and 2012.
The endurance swimmer first came to national attention in 1975 when she swam around the island of Manhattan in under eight hours. In 1979 she swam from the Bahamas to Florida 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 treacherous Florida Straits has been swam only once before. Australian Susie Maroney, using a protective cage, was 22 when she completed the crossing in 1997. The cage glided on currents and allowed her to finish the swim in only 25 hours.
Australian Chloe McCardel failed her attempt in June after she was stung severely by a jellyfish after about 11 hours of swimming.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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