Diana Nyad Looks Ahead to Next Challenge: Swimming 48 Hours in NYC
(CNN) — With her decades-long dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida achieved, Diana Nyad is setting her sights on her next challenge.
“I am through with the ocean,” she said on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday. “Never going to be seasick again! See how happy I look?”
Still, she’s off to do something few other people could or would. Nyad plans to swim for 48 hours in New York City.
A special pool will be installed for the October 8-10 event, a fundraiser for people who lost their homes in Superstorm Sandy.
“Then we’re going to take that pool to the Boston Marathon at the anniversary of that terror attack, and we’re going to swim there to help those people recover,” she said. After that, she’ll travel to Moore, Oklahoma, which was ravaged by a massive tornado earlier this year.
It’s “a nice pool with no waves, no jellyfish, no seasickness,” Nyad joked. “Those 48 hours should be a piece of cake,” she told CNN’s Kate Bolduan.
Nyad’s nearly 53-hour journey in her fifth attempt to cross what she calls “a treacherous stretch of water” ended in victory Monday. Her first effort was 35 years ago, when was in her 20s; now she’s 64.
After the previous attempts, people had emphasized to her that “it’s the journey, it’s not the destination,” she said Tuesday. “It’s all the self-discovery and the wonderful team. And I agree. But I’ll tell you something: This time, the destination really brought me into a state of euphoria.”
Not that she has instantly recovered from what the historic swim did to her.
The waves were “tough,” and a special facial mask designed to protect her from jellyfish stings led her to “take in a lot of saltwater,” she said.
“I was very sick.”
“I’m a little beat up,” she said. She has facial lacerations and effects of saltwater exposure inside her mouth. But “the emotional high is wiping out any physical problem.”
People told her that swimming from Cuba to Key West, Florida, was “impossible,” she says. People encouraged her to try friendlier waters, such as the Maldives or Guam. “But Cuba was in my heart, and when I look at the map, that’s what spoke to my imagination. So I didn’t want to give up on it. And this time I got lucky.”
“The Gulf Stream was my friend, and usually it’s not,” she said. “Usually you’re out there going in circles, going east of the Bahamas. This time the Gulf Stream went north, right where I was going.”
She was surrounded by a team of 35 people along the way “working like a machine,” Nyad said. Kayakers helped keep away sharks, and a jellyfish expert was in the water with her, scooping up jellyfish to keep them away from her.
Her handler, Bonnie Stoll, helped get her “somehow through the tough moments,” Nyad said.
Still, it’s “a very isolating experience,” she said.
“When you’re feeling good and you’re cruising through the daylight hours, you’re singing Neil Young songs to yourself and counting in French and German and Spanish, just passing the time.”
But, she said, “I had two nights of full suffering.” At those times, “You’re not thinking of anything. You’re just coping and surviving.”
At a news conference later Tuesday morning, a relaxed Nyad thanked her team and joked as she recounted her swim. On Sunday night, she said, she hallucinated she was seeing the Taj Mahal.
Recalling a previous attempt, she talked about hallucinating while looking at a streamer of lights that was meant to show her where her support boat was so that she’d know in what direction to swim at night. She remembers telling Stoll, from the water, that she saw people walking on a yellow brick road, singing “Heigh-Ho.”
Stoll responded, “That’s where you’re going; follow them.” Nyad said, drawing laughter.
The people who have followed her efforts closely for years “aren’t sports hounds,” she told CNN. “… They’re human beings who are dealing with their own heartaches and their own obstacles in life, and they want to know how to get through.”
Nyad said she represents a commitment never to give up on something “important to your heart — you look and see what’s inside yourself and you find a way.”
And her age speaks to baby boomers, she said. “I think people are looking to me to say, ‘Hell no, I’m not old.’
“When I’m 90 I’ll get in a rocking chair, look at the sunset. But look how my friends who are in their 60s are vibrant, at their intellectual peak — I’m proving that you can even be at your physical peak at this age.”