Sunday, Aug. 13, 1978, 2 p.m.:
She stood on Ortegosa Beach, 50 miles west of Havana. A northeast wind blew chop across the water, but the forecast said it would die. “I guess I’ll see you all in about two days,” she said, and then she waded in.
She enclosed herself in a 20-by-40 -foot shark cage mounted on pontoons and began her rhythmic pull through the sea. But over the next few hours the wind didn’t die; it built. So did the swells. Three-foot waves slapped her in the face and banged her around in the cage. She swallowed saltwater. The drifting arm of a jellyfish stung her and she shrieked.
Two summers ago, Nyad began to swim laps again, just to tone up. But she quickly developed a renewed appetite for extreme training. She was staying with friends on Long Island one weekend when she asked her hosts, “Do you want to go for a bike ride?”
“Maybe. Where do you want to go?”
“How about Montauk.”
“Diana — you know that’s almost 100 miles round trip, right?”
She did the ride in sweltering heat, up and down hills with no shade, and came back six-and-a-half hours later dripping with sweat but completely invigorated. Her hosts were sitting on the deck. “Hey, do you mind if jump in your pool?” she said. They said: “Of course not.” She dropped all of her clothes on the patio and jumped into the water.
Monday, Aug. 14, 1978, 2 a.m.:
At the 12-hour mark when her trainers fed her chicken soup, she vomited. Every hour she either threw up, or cried. At 4 a.m., the support crew tried to soothe her by blaring a Simon and Garfunkel tape. She raised her head from the water and said: “‘Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.’ That means there are no more heroes, right?”
By last July, she felt strong enough to complete a 24-hour training swim off the coast of Florida, and though she needed four intravenous drips to replenish her strength when it was over, she was convinced she could make the Cuba trip.
“The thing that amazed me was, the speed of her stroke barely budged from hour one to hour 24,” Broder said. But she had to scuttle her plans when she couldn’t get through the red tape and procure a visa in time to take advantage of the best weather conditions.
In a way, she says, it was the best thing that could have happened, because it gave her another year to lay down an endurance base for the torture that she knows is coming. Since then, she has packed on another 15 pounds of muscle and insulating weight.