SARASOTA - When Diana Nyad completed a swim from Cuba to Key West this week, the feat amazed and inspired people around the world. In 52 hours, 54 minutes, and 37 years, her triumph over distance, age, and shark and jellyfish infested waters testified to persistence, endurance, and – despite the image of a lonely swimmer stroking across the sea – a team.
“It looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team,” Nyad said moments after she reached land at the end of her fifth attempt to cross the Florida Straits.
“It was a huge thing. I was very grateful to be a part of it,” says Bruce Blomgren, the captain of the Voyager, the boat that accompanied Nyad. He met her in 2011, before her second attempt to make the roughly 100-mile swim. Her second failed attempt. She tried, and failed, twice more in 2012. “I've always wondered why,” Blomgren says of her quest. “I wondered if the demons were chasing her, or if she was chasing the demons.”
Whichever it was, when Nyad told him she was going to try again this year, and asked him to help, he signed on. They began practice swims in May, with Nyad swimming 12-18 hours a day, then resting a day, and swimming again. Saturday, it began in earnest. Blomgren watched as she swam, stroke after stroke, hour after hour, enduring exhaustion and sickness, as she went. “All of us felt a lot of compassion for that,” he says. “She couldn't keep down fluids. It was just a really hard time.”
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to completing the feat came when Nyad staggered the final few steps toward shore on Key West. For the crossing to count, no one could help her. But the crowd did not know that. “The person that almost touched her, without knowing any better, was a female police officer from Key West,” Blomgren says. “We sent one of our females out, rather than have one of our males tased, to tell her, she can't be touched.”
Nyad did make it, under her own power, with the help of a team who witnessed history up close. “If she can swim from Cuba to Key West at age 64 – not 24 – at 64, you can do anything.” Blomgren says that over the nearly 53 hours that Nyad swam, all the team members got a chance to sleep.
All of them except Nyad.