October 27th, 2011
12:08 PM ET
Diana Nyad may have had some setbacks this summer while attempting to swim from Cuba to Florida, but her journey isn't over yet, she said Wednesday.
"I can swim from Cuba to Florida, and I will swim from Cuba to Florida," she said at the TEDMED conference in Coronado, California. Nyad received a standing ovation after her inspirational presentation.
Nyad, now 62, recalled feeling a sense of malaise when she turned 60, unsatisfied with her life thus far. "I couldn’t forgive myself for the countless hours I’d lost in negative thoughts," she said.
She needed "an elevated dream." Nyad sought "something that would require utter conviction and unwavering passion." And so began her Xtreme Dream, which CNN covered in a documentary by that name. She would set out to swim the 103 miles between Cuba and Florida, a journey she had tried but failed to complete in 1978. It was the only world-class swim she had started but didn't finish.
It had been 31 years since Nyad had swum, but she was determined, even though the preparation was grueling. She trained for two years, swimming up to 12 hours a day. Despite a stylized TEDMED photo of Nyad grinning in a bathing cap, she has no recollection of that. "When you’re training for this sport, you are not smiling," she said Wednesday.
Long-distance swimming is like a microcosm life itself, Nyad says: You're going to hit obstacles, and you're going feel pain and suffering. She expected to hit some challenges in her quest this summer, but there were some surprises when she actually started the swim.
Twenty-nine hours in, her attempt in August ended after battling asthma and shoulder pain.
Her try in September also ended prematurely, after 40 hours in the water. She felt like her body was immersed in boiling hot oil when she got attacked by box jellyfish. She showed the TEDMED audience red marks on her arm from the barbs that shot venom into her body, temporarily paralyzing her and putting her in excruciating pain.
"My journey now is to find some sort of grace in the face of this defeat," she said. "I can look at the journey, not just the destination."
But the ocean is still there, and the journey is not yet over. Nyad said her hope is "still alive" that she will complete this swim.
"Why can’t you get the destination and the journey? That’s what I want to know," she said.
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