Rob Konrad spent six seasons battering linebackers as the lead blocker for the Miami Dolphins.
But Konrad survived 16 hellish hours in the Atlantic Ocean last week because his will was somehow even more powerful than his body.
That’s the belief of Diana Nyad, the famed long-distance swimmer who has flirted with a watery death more than once.
In 2013, Nyad became the first person on record to make the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. But she did have a crew following her in a boat with essentials and kayakers to fend off sharks.
Konrad had nothing — no food, no water, no life vest and no way to call for help — when he fell off his fishing boat off the coast of Palm Beach County.
Plus, the winter conditions were a factor. There was a small-craft advisory when he was lost at sea, as winds blew at 20 to 25 knots, according to the National Weather Service. The currents were strong. And at one point, at least one shark circled him.
For a normal non-athlete, the odds of survival are probably close to one in a thousand, Nyad estimated.
“But as an NFL player, he's probably a tough guy,” Nyad told the Miami Herald. “He knew his boat was only nine miles from shore. If you put a pro athlete in that situation, a lot of them would probably survive.”
It doesn’t make what he did any less remarkable. Konrad battled hypothermia and dehydration, and estimated he traveled 27 miles from when he fell off his 31-foot fishing boat about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to when he staggered ashore in Palm Beach about 4:30 a.m. the next day.
“He wasn't swimming,” Nyad said. “He was surviving.”
She continued: “At some point he decides, I could float around here and wait to be saved or I could take action and start the heck swimming. Look at the sun, gauge where east is, and get the freak to shore. … That's what saved him, he took action.”
Added Konrad’s friend Eric Winston, who is a lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals: “Guy has never lost at anything.”
In 1974, Nyad nearly drowned when swimming alone in frigid Lake Ontario. And during one of her failed attempts to cross the Florida Straits, Nyad was stung by a potentially deadly Box Jellyfish. She survived both, in part, because she’s an avid swimmer.
But Konrad is not. He’s a recreational fisherman who never intended to end up in the water last week. And still close to his playing weight of 255 pounds, he isn’t exactly built like Michael Phelps. A man of his size burns energy at a much faster rate than someone 100 pounds lighter.
Florida Fish and Wildlife is trying to determine what exactly happened at sea last Wednesday. The agency has launched an investigation into the incident because it was deemed a boating accident, but “it will take a few days to piece together,” FWC spokeswoman Liz Barraco said.
“I shouldn't be here,” an emotional Konrad acknowledged. “At some point [that night] I said, ‘I’m not dying tonight.’ And I made it to shore.”
Said Nyad: “He showed such a resolve to survive, thinking about his family, with the sharks circling. That guy had to be tough as nails.”