(PNS reporting from FLORIDA) Diana Nyad walked onshore here Monday, becoming the first person to swim from Cuba towing 400 escaping balseros. The 64-year-old Nyad swam up to the beach just before 2PM EDT, about 53 hours after she began her journey in Havana.
As she approached, spectators waded into waist-high water and surrounded the Cuban refugees, and offering them water. “I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, all you Cubans better pay me the smuggling money you owe me.”
“I have to say, I’m a little bit out of it right now,” Nyad said. She gestured toward her swollen lips, and simply said “Cubans.”
Nyad’s team, nicknamed “Operation Wetfoot,” said she had been slurring her words while she was out in the water. She was on a stretcher on the beach and received a mojito IV before she was taken by ambulance to a hospital. “I just wanted to get out of earshot of these Cubans, they never stop talking,” she said.
It was Nyad’s fifth try to complete the approximately 110-mile swim. She tried three times in 2011 and 2012. Her first attempt was in 1978, when over 300 balseros perished.
“It’s historic, marvelous,” exulted Jose Miguel Diaz Meaujadeu, the Cuban refugee who helped organize the Nyad flotilla. “I always thought she could do it given her internal energy, her mental and physical strength, plus the thousands of dollars we paid her,” said Diaz Meaujadeu, whom Nyad has described as a longtime customer.
The more than 400 Cubans who were towed behind Nyad say they will now be known as “Los Dianitos.” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FLA) took credit for the idea of getting Diana Nyad to transport so many Cubans to the U.S. for freedom, which he came up with during his heroic action during the battle at the Bay of Pigs.
Cuban balsero and musician Ricardo Ricardo, thanked the swimmer. “Muchas gracias a la viejita gringa, she can be in my show any time,” he said. “Pobrecita, she looks like a prune from prehistoric times.” He then began gesticulating wildly and pointing his finger for no particular reason.