On Labor Day 2013, Diana Nyad walked ashore onto Key West’s Smathers Beach — becoming the first person ever to swim across the Florida Straits from Cuba to the Florida Keys without a shark cage.

Diana Nyad epic swim

Swimmer Diana Nyad converses with her crew less than two miles off Key West on Sept. 2, 2013, shortly before completing her iconic swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“Never, ever give up,” said the then-64-year-old Diana, her face swollen and salt-encrusted from the nearly 111-mile swim that she had attempted four times before her Labor Day triumph. “You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

This week, Keys Voices marks the 10th anniversary of Diana’s iconic feat with a look back at the challenges, perseverance and intense effort that led to its accomplishment.

Diana Nyad first attempted the Florida Straits crossing in 1978 when she was 28 years old, swimming with a shark cage. After more than 41 hours of fighting strong currents and huge waves, driven far off course in a physically and mentally debilitating battle, she was lifted into a support boat.

More than three decades later, after being inspired by her 60th birthday, Diana tried again. In 2011 and 2012, she made three attempts but was foiled by shoulder pain, a devastating in-water asthma attack and multiple severe jellyfish stings.

At that point, many people said swimming the grueling distance just wasn’t possible — particularly for a woman in her 60s. But that didn’t stop Diana Nyad.

Diana Nyad Key West

Diana Nyad, right, gestures a V for victory after completing a 111-mile swim from Cuba to Key West. The swim took her nearly 53 hours. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“All my life I believed in dreaming big. I guess it doesn’t satisfy me to have small dreams,” she said with magnificent understatement.

Just before Labor Day 2013, she tried the crossing once more. Buoyed by lessons learned during her previous attempts, supported by a team whose dedication was nearly as strong as her own, she began swimming in Havana, Cuba, at 8:59 a.m. Aug. 31.

“I have had this Cuba swim under my skin since I was a child,” Diana admitted. “It’s the Mount Everest of oceans. It’s epic. And so you want to be the first.”

At night in the water, she donned a full-body suit, gloves and a specially crafted silicone face mask to protect her from jellyfish. She was accompanied by kayakers with electronic shark repelling devices.

And finally, after swimming continuously for 52 hours and 54 minutes, fighting bouts of nausea and exhaustion, Diana Nyad made it to the welcoming shore of Key West.

Nearly 2,000 people greeted her with loud cheers and applause as she reached Smathers Beach, hugged her best friend and business partner Bonnie Stoll, and lay down on a stretcher so medics could check her physical condition.

“I wanted this swim, this endeavor, not to just be the athletic record,” she said the following day, her face radiating peace and gratitude. “I wanted it to be a lesson to my life that says, ‘Be fully engaged. Be awake and alert and alive every minute of every waking day’.”

On Labor Day 2014, Diana and her team were back in Key West for the unveiling of a bronze plaque recognizing her achievement.

Diana Nyad Bonnie Stoll Key West

World-renowned endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (right) and her expedition leader Bonnie Stoll stand in front of a Custom House Museum display about Diana’s epic swim. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

In 2015 in the island city, she presented a one-woman stage show that chronicled her feat — and proved that the charismatic athlete is almost as good a storyteller as she is a long-distance swimmer.

Labor Day 2023 is the 10th anniversary of Diana’s incredible accomplishment, and Keys Voices salutes her wholeheartedly.

These days, the bronze plaque is permanently affixed to the promenade wall beside Smathers Beach, close to the spot where she came ashore.

As well as honoring Diana for her amazing physical endurance, it honors the mental strength and perseverance that kept her focused on achieving her goal.

Like Diana herself, it continues to be an example and an inspiration — to everyone determined to chase their dreams.