“She’s an inspiration for graying baby boomers,” said La Jolla High School graduate Anne Cleveland, who has swum the English Channel several times and for many years was the oldest person, at age 48, to make a non-stop, two-way crossing of the notoriously cold and choppy 22-mile channel between France and Great Britain.
“It’s a wonderful thing for a 64-year-old woman to try something bold like that. Everybody’s really stoked about it,” Cleveland said.
Nyad stepped ashore in Key West on Monday, Sept. 2 just before 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, about 53 hours after she began her swim from Havana on Aug. 31. As Nyad approached the shore, spectators surrounded her in the water, taking pictures and cheering her on. She walked on to dry land looking dazed and sunburned with lips swollen from seawater. Once on the beach, Nyad was put on a stretcher and received medical treatment, including an IV.
“I have three messages,” said Nyad after her historic swim. “One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.”
Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective shark cage. It was a long-awaited triumph for her, as it was her fifth attempt since 1978 and her fourth since turning 60.
Acknowledging the immensity of Nyad’s accomplishment, Cleveland nonetheless pointed out that, “There are questions to be answered for the marathon swimming community.”
Cleveland said international organizations supporting and promoting marathon open-water swimming have strict rules ensuring it’s just the swimmer alone, pitting their skills and endurance against the elements.
Long-distance swimmers, for example, aren’t allowed to wear wetsuits and, when making a long-distance swim, they aren’t ever allowed out of the water and into a boat. There are observers present at all times on support craft to hand out food and water and document the swimmer’s course, as well as time its duration.
Cleveland noted the “litmus test” for the sanctity of an open-water, long-distance swim like Nyad’s is an observer’s report, which Cleveland said documents and validates the authenticity of the swim, what, if any, assistance Nyad received, whether she ever got out of the water and into a boat, etc.
Cleveland, who didn’t start marathon swimming until she was in her 40s, said she’s pretty much retired now from the competitive sport.
“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody, least of all myself,” said Cleveland, a licensed Realtor who teaches yoga in the La Jolla area and occasionally mentors Channel swimmers. “I had the journey,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience to look at myself and observe myself doing and achieving. I’m in a different place now, more into being and teaching.”
To learn more about long-distance swimming, visit marathonswimmers.org/forum.