Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, on her fifth attempt to cross the treacherous Florida Straits, completed the historic journey Monday afternoon.
The 64-year-old Nyad accomplished her lifelong dream when she staggered onto a Key West beach just before 2 p.m., becoming the first person to complete the treacherous swim without the wave-breaking aid of a protective shark cage. Her 110-mile voyage took 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds to complete, according to a tweet by Nyad's team.
The crowd at Smathers Beach swarmed her in the water, applauding and waving American and rainbow flags. In typical Key West fashion, conch shells sounded.
According to media reports, Nyad walked out of the water when it became too shallow to swim any more. Her lips were swollen by jellyfish stings and her mouth bruised by face gear she wore to protect her from the venomous tentacles.
She hugged her team members and was carted off on a stretcher, but not before she reportedly told supporters: "Never give up."
People from around the world tracked Nyad on her website and rooted for her on social media.
President Barack Obama and Florida Gov. Rick Scott took to Twitter to congratulate her.
"Never give up on your dreams," Obama tweeted.
Nyad left Hemingway Marina in Havana on Saturday to cross the Straits, home to stinging box jellyfish, sharks, sudden storms, eddies and the strong Gulf Stream.
Despite a Sunday night storm that brought winds of up to 23 knots and bouts with nausea, Nyad made good time in the first half of the swim, with about 51 strokes per minute. A favorable current helped her average about two miles per hour, and by about 5 a.m. Monday she was on course to conquer her dream.
"The greatest variable here is the extension of human endurance," said her navigator, John Bartlett, who was leading her escort boat, the Voyager. "How long will it take her to make those last 100 strokes at the end, and all the ones from here to then?"
For Nyad, the journey began 35 years ago in 1978, when she first tried with a shark cage but came up short. She gave up swimming for decades, but conquering the Florida Straits continued to eat away at her. So in her 60s, she plunged back into the water and trained to regain her old form.
With a good marketing team that helped raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to support such an endeavor, she made her second attempt in 2011. It was hampered by shoulder pain and an asthma attack. Months later, jellyfish stings ended a third attempt.