As the water became too shallow to swim, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad picked herself up and walked the last few yards onto Smathers Beach and into history.
On her fifth attempt, and 35 years after she first tried, Nyad fulfilled her seemingly crazy dream and became the first person to swim across the treacherous Florida Straits — from Havana, Cuba, to Key West — without the wave-breaking aid of a protective shark cage.
She was welcomed by nearly 2,000 people on land and at sea on boats, kayaks and paddleboards. They waved rainbow and American flags. One man blew a Conch shell.
Police and her crew tried in vain to hold back the swarming crowd that broke past barricades as she finished the 110-mile journey that began Saturday morning from Hemingway Marina in Cuba and ended just before 2 p.m. Monday: exactly 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds, according to her team.
Nyad looked like a zombie, her sunburned face staring straight ahead as she waddled the last few steps. Her lips were swollen and her mouth bruised by the face gear she wore to protect her from venomous jellyfish. With the record official, trainer and good friend Bonnie Stoll hugged her, saying: “You did it.”
Yes, she did. At age 64.
“I think she is a little crazy, but you have to be to accomplish this,” said her friend, Lois Ann Porter, one of three people who supervised Nyad’s nutrition during the swim.
Usually a great talker, Nyad said only a few words after arriving on the beach. The crowd hushed briefly to hear her:
“I’ve got three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up,” she said in a voice hampered by the swelling of her throat and lips.
“Two is, you never are too old to chase your dreams.”
She paused. The crowd shouted: “That’s right!” and “Amen, sister!”
Nyad continued: “Three is, it looks like it’s a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”
She had a flotilla of five boats with a support crew of 35.
As paramedics finally parted the crowd, Nyad stared into the distance and gripped Stoll.
She was helped onto a stretcher and taken to a shady area, where paramedics gave her cold water and fluids through an IV. She asked a paramedic what he could do for the pain inside her mouth.
After several more minutes, she was taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center on nearby Stock Island for dehydration. For the first time, she managed a smile. She raised her hand and made a peace sign, then waved to the crowd, who shouted: “Way to go, Diana,” “Amazing” and “Unbelievable.”
Across the world, people on social media congratulated Nyad. President Barack Obama and Florida Gov. Rick Scott took to Twitter to acknowledge her achievement.
“Never give up on your dreams,” Obama tweeted.
This time, Nyad left Havana more prepared than ever for the sudden storms, sharks, eddies, the strong Gulf Stream and especially those dreaded box jellyfish, which had twice caused her to quit.
And this time, she had luck on her side. Navigator John Bartlett said the weather and the Gulf Stream cooperated. She had been making great time, average 2.2 miles per hour when the Gulf Stream helped boost her along.
With the exception of a short squall that rolled in Sunday night, the weather was clear. And the Gulf Stream made a turn north that helped her toward Key West and did not throw her far off course toward the Bahamas.
And the jellyfish that had terrorized her during the last two attempts were mostly unseen during this journey. But as a precaution at dusk and through the night, she wore a protective suit that stopped the venomous stings.