KEY WEST, Fla. — Diana Nyad ended her fourth attempt to swim across the Straits of Florida on Tuesday, her decades-old dream thwarted, more than anything else, by jellyfish.
Storms brewing around her and repeated jellyfish stings forced her out of the water at 12:55 a.m., her crew said. She traveled by boat close to a rocky shoreline in Key West on Tuesday afternoon, just over 72 hours after setting out from Cuba.
Nyad turns 63 today and, all told, logged 41 hours and 45 minutes of swim time. Her team acknowledged at 8 a.m. that she had to be pulled from the water, but said it had been about 20 minutes earlier, not nearly seven hours earlier as was the case.
She also spent time out of the water during a stormy Sunday night, though that was not acknowledged until Tuesday afternoon.
Under rules set by the World Open Waters Swimming Association, she could emerge from the water and preserve her chance at a record if her life was in danger. All of that was made moot by the fact that she didn’t finish.
Her lips swollen from jellyfish stings, she appeared weary as she was helped up from the water at her arrival in Key West, though she insisted her muscles weren’t even sore. She was given asthma inhalers, oxygen and an intravenous drip, mostly out of sight of the gathering crowd.
She all but ruled out a fifth try at attempting the crossing, though she also had ruled out a fourth one after failing last year.
“I’m not a quitter, but the sport and this particular ocean are different than they used to be,” she said. “These jellyfish are prolific. And, you know what? To me, there’s no joy in that.”
She added: “This isn’t swimming. It’s like some Navy SEAL.”
Nyad plunged into the water Saturday afternoon in Havana and lasted longer and made it further than on her previous attempts, her team said. She first tried the swim in 1978, in a shark cage. She tried twice last year, without a shark cage, but again and again the record eluded her.
Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Straits in 1997, but she used a shark cage. In June, another Australian, Penny Palfrey, made it 79 miles (127 kilometers) toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt.
Monday night proved the most challenging of all for Nyad, with team members fending off sharks, waves crashing in stormy weather, jellyfish sting after sting, and Nyad fighting off a lowered body temperature and the threat of hypothermia.
“Instead of getting hit with one doozy they got hit with three,” said Vanessa Linsley, a member of Nyad’s team. “They got hit with the weather, they got hit with the jellyfish and they got hit with the sharks all at the same time.”
Nyad had been training for three years for the attempt. She was accompanied by a support team in boats, and a kayak-borne apparatus shadowing her to keep sharks at bay by generating a faint electric field. A team of handlers was on alert to dive in and distract any sharks that made it through.
She took periodic short breaks to rest, hydrate and eat high-energy foods such as peanut butter. She said she had been reduced to tears several times — and expected more to flow — but turned reflective after arriving in Key West.
“I didn’t get that final moment, but what a magnificent experience it all was,” she said.