Diana Nyad makes history swimming from Cuba to Florida - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

Diana Nyad makes history swimming from Cuba to Florida

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Photo Source: CNN Photo Source: CNN
Diana Nyad jumps into the water in Havana on Saturday before beginning her attempt to swim to Florida.  Photo Credit: Roberto Leon/ NBC News Diana Nyad jumps into the water in Havana on Saturday before beginning her attempt to swim to Florida. Photo Credit: Roberto Leon/ NBC News
Swimmer Diana Nyad talks with her crew less than two miles off Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. Photo Credit: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau, AP Swimmer Diana Nyad talks with her crew less than two miles off Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. Photo Credit: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau, AP
Photo Source: CNN Photo Source: CNN

By Alastair Jamieson and Tracy Connor, NBC News

Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad made history Monday, becoming the first person to swim the 110 treacherous miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage – at the age of 64.

Crowds of fans cheering and blowing conch shells greeted a sunburned Nyad as she approached the shoreline of Key West just before 2 p.m. with a Coast Guard escort after 53 hours in the water.

It was Nyad's fifth try and she had a few strokes of luck: favorable currents and few of the poisonous jellyfish that doomed an earlier attempt, according to updates from her website and Twitter feeds.

The swim was not without extreme challenges, however.

Nyad was so cold on Sunday night that her handlers didn't stop to feed her, figuring she would stay warmer if she kept going.

Her tongue and lips were swollen by sun and seawater, and she had abrasions in her mouth from a special silicone mask meant to keep the jellyfish at bay.

At two miles out, Nyad seemed to realize that she was on the cusp of success and she paused to thank assistants gathered on 10 boats.

"I am about to swim my last two miles in the ocean," she told her handlers as she closed in on Key West, according to the blog.

"This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very very glad to be with you," she added, praising her team. "So let's get going so we can have a whopping party."

The Florida Straits has been conquered only once, by Australian Susie Maroney, who used a protective cage during a 1997 swim.  In June, Australian Chloe McCardel abandoned an attempt after 11 hours when she was badly stung by a jellyfish.

Nyad – who swam around the island of Manhattan in 1975 and a from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979 -- departed on Saturday morning and arrived a day earlier than original estimates.

NBC News' Christopher Nelson, David Wyllie of BreakingNews.com and Reuters contributed to this report.

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