This lady can put all couch potatoes to shame. At the age of 61 she has decided to try to become the first person to swim the 103 miles (166-km) from Cuba through the Straits to the Florida Keys – without the aid of a shark cage. She set off this morning…
She won’t be the first acknowledged person to do this – Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam between the two in 1997. However, she used a shark cage.
This is the second time that Diana has made this attempt. The first time was 33 years ago in 1978 when she was 28 yrs old. She swam inside a steel shark cage for about 42 hours before sea currents hammering her off course put an end to that effort. However, the following year (1979) she set a world record for open-water swimming without a shark cage, charting 102.5 miles (165 kilometers) from the Bahamas to Florida. She then retired from competitive endurance swimming.
But, she’s back. “I dare say millions of people my age,” she said at a news conference “are going to look and say, ’60’! The joke is 60 is the new 40, and it’s true. We are a younger generation than the 60 that went before us.”
As with swimming the English Channel, to make the record valid she will have to make the swim without a wetsuit and will not be allowed to touch the monitoring boats until she steps out on dry land. The swim is expected to take two and a half days.
Although she will not be using a shark cage, she is not going to take any unnecessary risks. “My dive team will first of all surround me with kayaks carrying electronic Shark Shields about 3 feet under the water. This electronic current does not bother me and does not injure sharks but does serve to annoy them… Picture me effectively wrapped in a 30-foot bubble of electronic pulses that repel sharks,” she said. The electric current is imperceptible to humans but strong enough to keep most sharks at bay apart from whitetip sharks which are not deterred by the field, so divers will be standing by to gently discourage any of those who get curious. She emphasizes this point, “Let me state as clearly and as loudly as I possibly can: We will not destroy any shark on our way from Cuba to Florida. Our attitude is that these are beautiful, necessary animals. We need them. The oceans need them.”
Hypothermia will be a threat. After so many hours at sea, even in temperate waters, the body temperature drops. Prolonged exposure to water temperature of 79 degrees will lead to hypothermia. 60 hours is certainly deemed ‘prolonged exposure’. For this reason she’ll be drinking heated water and hot chocolate to ward off the symptoms. She also plans to stop every 45 minutes for 20-second hydration breaks — water, juice, sports drinks. Every 90 minutes she’ll rest for 2 minutes and nibble on bread or a spoonful of peanut butter.
She calls the attempt a “symbolic moment” for increasing understanding between the United States and Cuba, two nations torn by five decades of animosity and mistrust. “I’m under no delusion that my swim is going to make any new political ramifications,” she added. “But it is a human moment between the two countries.”
Good luck – we will be following the swim with interest.