Hawaii innovation helps in historic swim

Diana Nyad swims from Cuba to Florida

Published  10:41 PM HST Sep 02, 2013

Endurance athlete Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

On Monday, after swimming more than 53 hours through shark-infested and jellyfish-filled waters, an exhausted 64-year-old Diana Nyad finally reached the Key West beach.

The journey took 103 miles and decades of determination.

After making it to shore, she told the crowd that had gathered, "We should never ever give up."

Nyad started her swim Saturday morning in Havana. Throughout the journey she was surrounded by 35 people on escort boats and in the water.

"Swimming, it looks like a solitary sport but its a team effort," said Nyad.

On her team was Dr. Angel Yanagihara, a University of Hawaii biochemist and expert in jellyfish.  She was called into help after dozens of poisonous stings stopped Nyad in 2011.

"I really pictured it and I knew I could do it. Everybody helped me, I just couldn't get there," said Nyad in 2011.

The endurance swimmer was stopped once again last year because of storms and stings.

Nyad completes historic Cuba-Fla. swim
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Patrick Oppmann/CNN


"The amount of box jellies in 2012 was like a science-fiction movie. It was unsettling to see that many jellies of all different species," said Yanagihara.

This time in the water, Nyad had on a cream designed by Dr. Yanagihara which lessens the pain and even stop jellyfish stings from ravaging a swimmer's skin.

"I combined a number of technologies together into a lotion that open ocean swimmers love because it stays on a long time and protect skin," said Yanagihara.

In Hawaii, man-of-war and box jellyfish are the biggest threats to swimmers and that is also case in the Florida Straights. There are also other stinging creatures there, so during the swim Dr. Yanagihara also spent time in the water collecting various jellyfish. That information was then used to make sure Nyad used additional defenses when necessary, like a specially-made face mask or protection suit.
Endurance athletes cover incredible distances in the open ocean, but the pain and swelling from stings can turn a swim into a nightmare.

"Jellyfish stings are something that has gotten in the way of these remarkable athletes. I'm very happy to provide some technology to help," said Yanagihara.

Thanks to the help of her team and her own determination, after four failed attempts, Diana's extreme "dream swim" finally came true.

"We never are too old to achieve our dreams," said Nyad, before she was taken off the Florida beach and received medical attention.

While endurance swimmers have been able to use Dr. Yanagihara's topical treatment for jellyfish stings - her "sting stopper" is not available commercially yet.
She said she is working to get it out to beachgoers in the future.

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