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Quest in jeopardy after jellyfish stings Cuba-Florida swimmer

Sep 24, 2011, 6:59 p.m.
U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad starts her attempt to swim to Florida from Havana September 23, 2011. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

By Kevin Gray

MIAMI (Reuters) - Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad's quest to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage was thrown into doubt late on Saturday after she was stung in the face and eyes, apparently by jellyfish, in the Florida Straits, her team said.

Nyad, 62, departed from the Cuban capital of Havana on Friday evening on her quest to make the 103-mile crossing through shark-infested waters, a grueling swim expected to last around 60 hours.

"Diana ... was stung by some kind of presumed jellyfish. The crew is trying to determine what kind of sting it is. Her face and eyes and the area around her eyes are affected.

"She is out of the water and aboard the transom of the Voyager where she is being treated by doctors," according to a posting on her Twitter account.

"It will be up to Diana to decide whether or not to continue to the swim," the posting stated.

It is the second time in two months Nyad has attempted the swim. In August, she swam for 29 hours and about 50 miles before abandoning the effort. She said she suffered from asthma for 11 hours of the swim, which drained her strength.

At one point, a white tipped shark was spotted in her vicinity but eventually swam away as one of Nyad's safety divers approached it.

Nyad was swimming "stronger and stronger," a message said earlier in the day, after her pace slowed overnight when she suffered a series of stings from jellyfish-like Portuguese Man o'War and complained of breathing problems.

Stings on her arms, the side of her body and face forced her to tread water for more than an hour. She eventually changed her bathing suit and put on a shirt to cover herself.

PASTA, BANANAS, PEANUT BUTTER

"Her strokes are up to 50 per minute," another message posted on Saturday read. "She is eating pasta, gobbling bananas, bits of peanut butter sandwiches."

Under rules for the record swim attempt, Nyad can stop each hour to take liquids and high-energy food but cannot touch a specially equipped boat accompanying her. A team of about 30 people is keeping watch over her as she swims.

Even though she retired from competitive swimming years ago, Nyad has said she is trying the swim to help people her age and older realize they can still do many things. She said the swim is also an effort to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.

Nyad, who was raised in south Florida, first attempted the crossing from Cuba in 1978 when, at the age of 28, she was at the peak of her career as a marathon swimmer. Heavy seas forced her to give up before reaching Florida.

She has set several world records, including swimming around New York's Manhattan island in 1975 in less than eight hours and completing a 102.5-mile swim from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

The Florida Straits crossing was successfully completed in May 1997 by Australian Susan Maroney, then 22, but she swam in a cage to protect her from sharks.

Nyad is being protected in the warm waters by an anti-shark device that uses a mild electrical current to shield her from the predators.

(Editing by Will Dunham and Todd Eastham)

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