Diana Nyad marked the 10th anniversary of her nearly 111-mile swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West by helping to release a rehabilitated sea turtle back into the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday – from the beach where she completed her epic feat in September 2013.
Nyad and her Cuba swim expedition leader Bonnie Stoll helped release “Rocky,” a 120-pound female green sea turtle that was rehabilitated at the Marathon-based Turtle Hospital, at Key West’s Smathers Beach.
On Labor Day 2013, nearly 2,000 people gathered at the same beach to welcome Nyad as she came ashore after swimming for 52 hours and 54 minutes, becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to the Keys without a shark cage.
Then 64 years old, she succeeded at the grueling Florida Straits crossing on her fifth try, while battling stinging jellyfish, nausea and countless other physical and mental challenges.
“I wish we could have trained Rocky to swim right next to me and eat all the jellyfish that we came upon going across,” said Nyad, referencing green sea turtles’ diet in the wild.
Rocky was rescued in January by Florida Fish & Wildlife officers off Key Largo, after being discovered struggling and unable to dive. At the hospital in Marathon, the turtle required an eight-hour intestinal surgery, breathing treatments and a blood transfusion followed by months of medications and recovery.
“A number of people have brought up that Rocky’s story is similar to my story, but the truth is, I never compare myself to an animal struggling for her life,” Nyad said. “Maybe we shared the will to live and then the will to be strong, but Rocky has a courage that I don’t have.”
After being carried to the water’s edge by Nyad, Stoll and Turtle Hospital personnel, Rocky swam away into her saltwater home as several hundred spectators applauded.
Among them were more than 30 crew members who supported Nyad’s iconic swim and returned to Key West for the weekend’s 10th anniversary celebration.
The Turtle Hospital opened over 36 years ago as the world’s first state-licensed veterinary hospital specializing in sea turtles.