Only in a Nyad interview would the famed Taj Mahal, fitness fanatic Jack LaLanne and theoretical physicist and author Stephen Hawking be mentioned when talking about the swim.
But Nyad said on the first night, in which she spent 13 hours in a specially designed silicon mask to keep the jellyfish from stinging her face and lips, that she took in so much saltwater that it made her sick, oxygen deprived and delusional.
She thought she saw the Taj Mahal and was going to be disqualified from going after the open-water record because she was walking on land.
She broke Palfrey’s long distance swimming record of 67.26 miles, set in 2011 during a swim from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman.
Nyad also said that while Susie Maroney was the first person publicly acknowledged as completing the Cuba to Key West swim, in 1997, it was done with the great aid of a shark cage.
She explained that the shark cage, which she used in her first attempt in 1978,does much more than protect a swimmer from sharks. It creates a type of draft (she called it “vectors of curling currents”) that helps a person swim much faster. “This is how Jack LaLanne moved the Queen Mary with his teeth,” she said.
And while the swim was going well, Nyad sang from a list of 85 songs ingrained in her brain. She demonstrated one Neil Young tune, imitating his falsetto voice directly into the cameras. “I love you baby and I want some more. Ooooh. Ooooh.”
Nyad also was thinking about the latest Stephen Hawking books she read: “Did the universe really exist in the size of a penny at one time and it just couldn’t take it anymore and blew out and this is what we’re left with?” Nyad said. “That’s fun. That’s fun stuff. But when you are suffering in crisis, you’re not doing that anymore.
That’s where Stoll played a huge role – knowing just the right thing to say at the right time to pick up the spirits of Nyad, who at times was crying.
On the start of second night, Stoll told Nyad three pieces of good news. One, the navigator John Bartlett said the Gulf Stream is going in the perfect direction, North.
Second, her jellyfish guru had swept the area and there were no signs of jellyfish so she wouldn’t have to wear the protective mask.
And third, that Nyad would not have to put the mask on Monday night, because Nyad would be finished in the daylight of Monday.
That was as close as anyone got to telling Nyad how far she has gone or so far she has to do. Nyad’s cardinal rule is not to tell her that information.
Stoll’s words helped propel Nyad through the night and when morning came, the entire flotilla of five boats with 35 crew members knew success was in sight. By the two-mile mark, Nyad said she could finally see the shoreline.
After stopping to thank her crew, she began the final push for shore. It had been quite a journey, which including endless hours of behind-the-scenes planning and logistics. It had cost about $1 million for the past four attempts, some funded by corporations, but a lot coming from small donations from supporters around the world. Volunteers also spent endless hours to help her make her dream come true.
But before it was over, her crew had one more important job. They formed a protective ring around her so the swarming mob of well-wishers would not hug her before she officially reached land.
Even though Nyad looked in a daze, she said she was able to take in the great moment of her life. She said the thousands on the beach got it. That it was not simply about an athlete doing something incredibly hard and grueling.
“It was people who were recognizing what we all go through in our lives,” Nyad said. “We all have dreams. And we all get disappointed. We all have heartache and we suffer and work to get through it. It’s just the human condition. ...So I stand here today so proud. I’m so proud of my team and I’m so proud of myself.”