Those who won’t go into the ocean out of fear that they might encounter sharks or jellyfish should take note of swimmer Diana Nyad’s recent accomplishment.
Nyad, 64, walked into the water August 31 and swam 110 miles from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, becoming the first person to do so without a protective cage. The feat is testament to her endurance, will, determination and fearlessness, regardless of the skepticism surfacing from within the long-distance swimming community.
Some of her peers have questioned whether she got a little help from the support vessels that accompanied her along the way. They point to stretches of her swim that she finished rather speedily.
None of that makes a difference to me. I applaud all marathon swimmers for helping to prove that sharks are of relatively no danger to humans. Sharks hunt marine life, not us.
Last year, for example, the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 118 incidents of shark-human interaction around the globe. Eighty of those incidents were categorized as unprovoked attacks, meaning they occurred in the sharks’ natural habitat.
Seven of the 2012 encounters were fatal — six fewer than the 13 recorded in 2011. Between 2001 and 2010, an average of 4.4 people died in the seven seas following shark encounters.
The ISAF reports that unprovoked encounters between humans and sharks have, in general, steadily increased since 1900. The reason: there are more of us using the ocean for recreational purposes every year. It doesn’t help matters that we are overfishing and using the big pond as a dump.
Nyad is truly inspirational. The author, journalist and motivational speaker has been testing the waters for quite awhile. She swam 28 miles around Manhattan in 1975 and 103 miles from North Bimini in The Bahamas to Juno Beach, Florida, in 1979. She first attempted the Havana to Key West swim in 1978, just one year after the Kennedy-era travel restrictions were lifted.
The woman has guts. There are sharks around her at all times. She knows a tiger shark could mistake her for a sea turtle. She knows a great white could mistake her for a wounded seal. My love for sharks is no secret, but those slim possibilities would be in the back of my mind if I were the one challenging Poseidon. She’s got to think about it sometimes. Fifty-three hours is a long time to concentrate solely on swimming technique. I’d bet she’s read the same statistics that I have and refuses to give in to fear. Bravo, Miss Diana.
This was Nyad’s fifth attempt at making the Havana-Key West swim. Weather and ocean conditions were huge factors in her previous failures. Box jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-War stings also helped convince her to abort her mission, according to news accounts.
No worries, people. The most common jellyfish along the Grand Strand — the Cannonball Jelly, the Mushroom Jelly and the Southern Moon Jelly — are virtually harmless. When swimming earlier this summer, I grabbed a Cannonball Jelly to demonstrate this to my brother and nephew. I felt a slight tingling in my fingers, but the sensation subsided in less than a minute.
On the other hand, what Diana Nyad did a little over a week ago was stunning. Her accomplishments, fair or not, will be remembered for a long, long time.