Woman to Swim 60 Hours Straight, Steering Clear of Sharks and Self-Doubt

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Reuters / Carlos Barria

Swimmer Diana Nyad trains in Key West, Florida September 24, 2010.

The 61-year-old long distance swimmer readies herself to conquer a dream deferred.

After 30 years, Diana Nyad, a former commentator on NPR, will make a second attempt to swim from the shores of Cuba to Key West, Fla. Harsh weather stopped her the first time in 1978, but this time, she is backed by modern technology and team of 22 experts—including satellite oceanographer, meteorologists, boat pilots, physicians and shark divers. If she succeeds, she would also break her own record of world’s longest ocean swim in 1979, 102 miles from Bimini, Bahamas, to Jupiter Fla., shark-cage free.

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Monitoring the weather and the ocean, Nyad and her team are waiting for the right timing. Nyad wants quiet sea in the first two days, so that she can save her energy for the 60-hour swim’s final stretch. Also, the water temperature must go up to 86 degrees or above to keep her body from freezing.

Even with the perfect climate, many things can go wrong: shark attacks, starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, deviation from path and self-doubt. Luckily, the team came up with solutions for most of them, including the deadly shark attacks. Shark divers will ride alongside the swimmer and fend off the beasts with electric shock emitting neoprene rods.

But what can be done about self-doubt? Staring at the ocean’s depth for days with no distraction like music or scenery can intensify bodily stress as well as mental agony. Nyad has her own cure: she sings thousands of times to keep her thoughts from drifting to dangerous places. One of her favorite number is “Ticket to Ride,” since she can swim to its cadence well.

Read the full story of the 61-year-old athlete’s amazing challenge at the New York Times.

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