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    How to Swim from Cuba to Florida

    Written by

    Xavier Aaronson

    Before launching into any sport, it's important to know three things: the rules, the stakes, and when to quit. In the case of Diana Nyad, the resolute 64-year-old long-distance swimmer, acknowledging two out of three ain't bad.

    On August 31st, 2013, Nyad jumped into the shark-friendly waters of Cuba and swam some 110-odd miles—without the protection of a shark cage—to eventually reach the shores of Key West, Florida, some 53 hours later. 

    Why would anyone stare down the ocean and risk their life to face up its indomitable conditions? Perhaps for the same reasons people strap parachutes to their backs and jump out of perfectly functioning planes. Who knows. But my guess is that Nyad's four separate failed attempts to complete the treacherous swim had something to do with her profound determination to finally conquer the challenge. 

    The sea is no small terror for the gill-less. To successfully tackle its wildness it takes individual fearlessness, but also an ancillary team of innovators who know no limits, just edges. 

    Nyad's superhuman feat was an extremely personal mission that was made possible with the support of a motley crew of scientists, oceanographers, navigators, and physicians. A biochemist specializing in jellyfish designed Nyad's sting-resilient wetsuit, a group of marine scientists created an invisible shield that emitted electrical pulses that zapped curious sharks in the face, a prosthetist developed a customized silicone mask engineered to protect every millimeter of Nyad's exposed skin from the paralyzing toxins of box jellyfish. 

    Nyad was the vessel. She carried the blood, sweat, and know-how of these professionals and their one-of-a-kind tech. Her strength is immense; but after repeated failure, it was these innovators who helped widen the gap between life and death, between Nyad giving up and finding a way.