American 64-year-old long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad on Monday (September 02) became the first person to swim across the Florida Straits from Cuba without a shark cage, succeeding on her fifth attempt at the feat.

Nyad came ashore about 53 hours after she set off from Havana, Cuba, completing the 110 mile journey and setting a record for the longest ocean swim without a shark cage or flippers.

She was met by hundreds of well-wishers in Key West who surrounded her, snapping photos, and cheering as she staggered ashore.

Paramedics were waiting to give her medical treatment and immediately placed her on a stretcher and hydrated her with an IV before she was taken to a hospital.

With crowds surrounding her as she took the final steps to complete the swim, Nyad had one thing to say: "I have a message - never give up," - words she has been waiting to say for 35 years.

Candace Hogan, a member of the Nyad crew who has accompanied the swimmer on her five attempts to swim across the Florida Straits, said she never doubted her friend could complete the swim. She said good conditions made the difference this time around.

"We have always known that Diana could do it. We have always known that. I knew that in 1978. All you have to do is know her to know that she could swim from Cuba to Florida, if the waters were glassy and the weather was right, if there were no beasts," she said.

This time Nyad used a protective silicone mask to better protect her from potentially deadly box jellyfish that forced her to end one of two attempted crossings last year.

Nyad said at the outset that the custom-made mask slowed her and made it more difficult to breathe. Officials initially estimated it could take up to three days to complete the swim, but Nyad benefited from a favourable current, her crew members said.

Crew member Lois Ann Porter said the team felt early on that this swim was different than the previous four failed attempts.

"We started getting excited after the first day because she was really so strong. She had a tough night the first night, but coming out of that into the next day and she came through that, she was really strong. She had it physically, she had it emotionally," she said.

The treacherous Florida Straits has been conquered only once, by Australian Susie Maroney, who used a protective cage at age 22 during a 1997 swim. The cage glided on ocean currents and enabled Maroney to make the journey in just 25 hours.

Nyad's fifth attempt to make the crossing comes 35 years after she made her first go at it aged 28 in 1978, when she gave up after covering 76 miles in 42 hours, with the aid that time of a shark cage.

Her long-distance accomplishments include swimming around the island of Manhattan in 1975 and a swim from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

Presented by Adam Justice

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