Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad

Photo: Tony Triolo/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

It was a victory more than 30 years in the making. On September 2, 2013, 64-year-old Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. First gaining national attention in 1975 as the first woman to swim around the island of Manhattan, Diana originally tried to swim the Florida Straits in 1978 when she was just 28 years old. It took a lengthy retirement, three more failed attempts and a few years of intense training before she successfully completed the challenge. Her story is an inspirational case study on how perseverance and hard work can make your dreams a reality. Browse through these photos to see her adventure unfold.
U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad in 1975

Photo: Lynn Pelham/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

August 1978
Diana was 28 years old when she first attempted to swim from Havana to Key West, Florida—just one year after President Jimmy Carter let strict Kennedy-era travel restrictions between the countries expire. Unfortunately, a strong current pushed Diana, who was swimming inside a protective shark cage, miles off course and into the Gulf of Mexico. When her team scooped her out of the water, she was less than halfway to her goal.

Two years later, for her 30th birthday, Diana broke distance records with a 102-mile swim from Bimini, in the Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida. That's when she decided to retire from swimming. Thirty-two years later, she wrote the following about the event in her blog: "Swimmer's burnout gripped me to the point that I could have sworn I would never, ever swim a lap again in my life."
Diana Nyad jumps into the water at Ernest Hemingway Nautical Club in Havana


August 2011
After 30 years practicing sports journalism, 60-year-old Diana Nyad returned to the water. After the death of her mother, she was inspired to make a second run at her dream—this time without a shark cage. On August 7, 2011, she set off from the Ernest Hemingway Nautical Club in Cuba, but a combination of shoulder pain, ocean swells and a severe asthma attack kept her from finishing the trip.
Diana Nyad during her preparation for her third attempt to swim from Havana to Key West, Florida


September 2011
On September 23, 2011, she tried for a third time. As it would be for her future swims, she dove in without a shark cage. Diana was stung twice by box jellyfish, and Diana's medical team warned her that additional stings could be deadly. Nearly two-thirds of the way through her swim, she decided to heed their advice and stop.
Diana Nyad gestures before her departure from Havana, Cuba


August 2012
Diana's fourth attempt took place on August 18, 2012. It was thwarted by lightning, wind, repeated jellyfish stings and looming sharks.
Diana Nyad after finishing her historic 110-mile swim from Havana to Key West, Florida

Photo: Cammy Clark/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images

September 2013
Just over one year later, Diana tried again. She set out from Cuba on August 31, 2013—and realized her dream. After nearly 53 hours and 110 miles, she emerged onto Smathers Beach in Key West as the first person to swim the Florida Straits without a shark cage. Moments after setting foot on the beach, Diana said to supporters, "I have three messages: One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team."