A doctor gave her Zofran for nausea and said her pulse was good at 66. She complained about sore biceps and chafing.
As the sun climbed higher on Day 2, she passed the 24-hour mark, ate eggs, drank Coca-Cola, felt better and sang Happy Birthday to McVeigh. By noon, the Gulf Stream current had increased to 3.8 knots and turned in a more northeasterly direction, with a counterclockwise-churning eddy to the west — “Just what we’d hoped for,” said Bartlett, beaming and flashing a thumbs-up to the crew. For seven hours Nyad sped up to an average of 3.6 mph due to the conveyor-belt current. By 4 p.m., she had covered 63 miles. She kept her rhythm by singing to herself a playlist of 85 songs stored in her head: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles.
“I repeat the lyrics over and over and I go into a metronomic trance,”said Nyad, breaking into song to demonstrate with a bar from the Beatles’ No Reply. “Sometimes my brain isn’t doing well and I revert to the Beverly Hillbillies theme or Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’”
Nyad also pondered astrophysics, and her relationship with her late mother.
“Every swim is like six months on a psychiatrist’s couch,” she said.
At sunset on Sunday, Nyad took a risk and refused to don the mask. Yanagihara applied “sting stopper” gel to her face. Stoll assured her there would not be a third night and Nyad was energized by the news; she dreaded the nights and a possible onslaught of the prehistoric, four-eyed creatures.
The mighty stream slowed to 2.2 knots. Nyad grew tired, disoriented and kept veering to the right. At 10:45 p.m. a squall descended. Rain and wind battered the flotilla for two hours. Nyad paused, treading water, and wept. At one point, she fell behind the boat and a shark diver beckoned her back to the red light line.
“Come on, Diana!” her kayaker escorts yelled as Nyad struggled to maintain her pace. “Take us home.”
Confused, she switched to breaststroke and blurted, “Are we there?”
She stopped and started, again and again — a reflection of the conflict in her mind. Stoll whistled and purred a stream of encouragement. Then she told Nyad to look up at a white glow.
“Is that the sun coming up?" Nyad asked.
No, Stoll said, that’s Key West.
"I had never seen those lights before," Nyad said. "I still had 15 hours to go but in that moment I knew we would make it.”
She summoned a second wind to keep pulling Florida closer with one arm and pushing Cuba back with the other. At 2 a.m. she hit the 93-mile mark. Under a starry sky, calm seas.
“She was swimming strong so I decided to cut across a current coming off the Keys rather than bear away to the East,” Bartlett said as the boat slowly crabbed sideways against the current.
At dawn of Day 3, kayakers sang: “Onward to Florida, find a way to Florida!” Nyad apologized to the divers for throwing up, and they said, “Don’t worry, it’s just fish food.”
"I used my iPhone stopwatch to count her strokes, and it was the same 50 per minute at 45 hours that it had been at 10 hours," Hinkle said. "There was a surreal feeling that history was being made."
Mid-morning, Nyad gathered her crew and thanked them. Just before 2 p.m., she stroked toward shore, surrounded by onlookers whose curiosity turned to awe. Cameras zoomed in on her blue bathing cap. People waded beside her, and her handlers warned them not to touch her.
Nyad walked stiffly out of the water and onto the sand, her skin turned to bark, her eyes puffy like a boxer’s. By age 30, she’d swum around Manhattan, from Bimini to Florida, across the Bay of Naples. But she didn’t reach her ultimate destination until age 64. Three inspirational messages tumbled out before she collapsed into Stoll’s arms.
“Those people were looking into my eyes, and I didn’t have a speech prepared, but I wanted to give them something to use every day in their lives,” she said.
Nyad could have chosen a different part of the world for her epic swim. She considered the drowning Maldives. Guam or the Gulf of Thailand. But the fascination — the obsession — with a Cuba-to-Florida swim never left her. She was a young swimmer growing up in Fort Lauderdale when Fidel Castro’s revolution sent waves of Cubans to South Florida. Some became her friends. She recalled afternoons at the Lago Mar beach club with her mother, who had visited Cuba as a tourist.
“It’s a beautiful island, 100 miles away,” her mother told Nyad, pointing across the ocean to a “forbidden, magical place.”
“You mean it’s right over the horizon?” Diana asked.
“Yes,” her mother replied. “You could practically swim from there to here.”