KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — A decade after swimming the treacherous passage from Cuba to Key West, Diana Nyad returned Sunday to the beach where she completed her epic feat, joining in the release of a sea turtle rehabilitated at the Florida Keys’ Turtle Hospital
Nyad and her Cuba swim expedition leader Bonnie Stoll helped return “Rocky,” a 120-pound (54 kilogram) female green sea turtle, to the Atlantic Ocean at Key West’s Smathers Beach as they marked the anniversary with her former support team.
On Labor Day 2013, nearly 2,000 people had lined the beach to welcome Nyad as she came ashore after her 111-mile (178-kilometer) odyssey, a nonstop swim lasting 52 hours and 54 minutes across the Florida Straits from Havana.
Succeeding on her fifth attempt at age 64, Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to the Keys without a shark cage — despite battling stinging jellyfish, nausea and other physical and mental challenges.
She joined personnel from the Turtle Hospital to carry Rocky across the sand on Sunday to the water’s edge.
“The thing I like about them is that they eat jellyfish,” quipped Nyad, referring to the diet of green sea turtles in the wild. “I wish we could have trained Rocky to swim right next to me and eat all the jellyfish that we came upon going across.”
Rescued in January by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officers and transported to the hospital, Rocky required an eight-hour intestinal surgery, breathing treatments, a blood transfusion and months of medications to survive.
After being guided into the water, Rocky swam away from the beach before diving down into the Atlantic as Nyad, Stoll and several hundred spectators applauded. Among them were more than 30 of Nyad’s Cuba swim support crew that returned to Key West for the 10th anniversary celebration.
Other weekend events in Key West also marked the anniversary including a Saturday beach party where Nyad and team members took turns sharing their memories of the swim.
Nyad’s swim has been turned into a new feature film, “Nyad,” starring Annette Bening as the swimmer and Jodie Foster as Stoll, her friend and trainer.