September 14th, 2011
10:09 AM ET

Diana Nyad's 'Xtreme Dream'

Editor's note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta follows Diana Nyad as she attempts to break a world record, swimming without a shark cage from Cuba to Florida after 30+ years of not swimming. Tune in to DIANA NYAD XTREME DREAM, Saturday September 17 at 8 p.m. & 11 p.m., and Sunday September 18 at 2 a.m. ET. Sanjay Gupta MD airs Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

For over a year, CNN producers Jennifer Hyde and Matt Sloane followed Nyad’s tenacious pursuit of the XTREME DREAM. In the pre-dawn moments before Diana’s boats arrived in Key West on August 9, Hyde had a special perspective on the scene, the emotions, the lessons learned and the meaning of the effort.

6 a.m., Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Off the coast of Key West, Florida

As the sun rises, the 75-foot yacht Bellissimo nears shore in Florida, but not as hoped: 61-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad is now on board and no longer in the water.

Throughout the vessel, handlers and drivers, photographers, friends and family members are huddled in chairs, under tables and across the decks, catching a few moments of sleep after an emotional night and an exhausting journey.

As early as hour three, Diana was experiencing pain in her right shoulder - excruciating with every one of an estimated 50,000 strokes. By hour 15, asthma was leaving her breathless. And by hour 18, seas were so choppy that Diana would emerge and disappear as she passed through troughs of water and out of sight of handlers. By hour 27, navigators adjusted Diana’s course in a last-ditch attempt to help.

Video: 'To my grave without finishing this swim'

As hour 28 approached, the pain was so great that Diana had to rest every three or four freestyle strokes, rolling onto her back to breathe. Her doctor, Michael Broder, would swim to her on breaks to monitor vitals or administer medication while Bonnie Stoll, her lead handler, endlessly urged her on from the deck of Voyager, the customized boat that accompanied Diana.

Struggling with shoulder pain, asthma

“I’m just about dead, I’m just about dead,” Diana told them, clutching the right shoulder and looking to the stars. Then, she’d turn back into the water, struggling through another stroke or two, pushing and pushing and pushing.

By hour 29, Diana was weighing the math between belabored strokes. She turned to Voyager and asked navigator David Marchant: “Do I have to swim all night and all day and all night again”? The answer was “yes.”

Diana switched to breast stroke, a last desperate attempt to find a way to propel herself to land. A handful of strokes. More rest. A few minutes more. And, finally, Diana made the decision. It was over.

Back in the U.S. after abandoning swim

Word went out calmly over the radios for a tender to go to Voyager. Moments later, the tender was back at Bellissimo, and Diana passed onto the deck and into the arms of the boat’s captain, Marlin Scott. Under her own power, Diana worked her way slowly up the stairs and into a waiting chair, now overwhelmed by the exhaustion and emotion she’d held at bay for over a full day.

For hours, she battled nausea rising, sick, to the boat’s rails. Broder administered intravenous fluids, but was generally pleased to find the 61-year-old’s vitals strong.

Inside the boat, a dozen support crew struggled with their own emotions. Gear packed the boat, from cameras to Camelbaks to clothes. The couch was prepared for Diana to rest when she chose. By 4 a.m., approximated 32 hours after she’d blown Reveille on her bugle, waved to admirers, and plunged into Cuban waters, Diana rose to her feet and walked, on her own, into the boat.

Gallery: Diana Nyad's journey

Now lying down, she talked to all assembled, a mini-press conference of sorts with half a dozen cameras at work. Exhausted and wracked with emotion, Diana talked about what she went through, what she was thinking, and what she had wished had gone differently.

Now, the caravan of boats that supported Diana is moving toward the coast. Diana is eating eggs and toast. Talking to friends and family and taking calls. People are crying. Laughing. Hugging. Diana is alternately telling jokes and shedding tears. Preparations are being made for the last leg of a journey that has stretched some two years - the arrival to land, and the discussions with those gathered there.

For Diana Nyad, it didn’t go as planned. Every ounce of energy - spiritual, emotional, physical - is now spent.

See Nyad's track across the water

The expedition has been a success in a way unexpected. Two years ago, Diana set out on this journey to prove that dreams are worth pursuing, that strength is ageless, and that inspiration and courage are always within reach - something she showed with every stroke and every minute she spent in the water.

Read more about Diana Nyad's journey

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. H Hinson

    Diana, you inspired us all. THANKS. This journey was in no way a failure. You taught everyone that you're never too old to live the dream.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. erich2112x

    Lucky for her, a Russian sub happened to be doing some routine sweeps in the area and was able to give her a lift back to Florida.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Trin

    I don't get it. Why organize an attempt at something like this at the start of hurricane season?

    September 15, 2011 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. jhnz

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    September 15, 2011 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. histamines from dehydration?

    Ask sanjay if he has ever heard of people getting asthma-like symptoms from dehydration? I read somewhere...sorry, i don't remember where right now, that your body sends histamines when you are getting dehydrated to protect your lungs from drying out. so our lungs shut down a little bit. seems odd when she is in an ocean of water, but her body could still get dehdrated. (oh, maybe the book was you're not sick, you're thirsty...or something like that. popular literature, not peer reviewed unless i missed a footnote.) something to try anyway.

    September 16, 2011 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ckacian

    Enjoyed the show....love Diana and I love the cover picture of her on the show. Would like to know, where can I get a copy of it?

    September 7, 2013 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Martin Deener

    whoah this blog is wonderful i love reading your articles. Keep up the good work! You know, many people are hunting around for this information, you could help them greatly.


    January 12, 2021 at 01:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Joel Tervo


    January 17, 2021 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.