KEY WEST, Fla. -- Diana Nyad marked the10th anniversary of her nearly 111-mile swim from Havana to Key West by helping to release a rehabilitated sea turtle into the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday -- from the beach where she completed her epic feat in 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 Florida Keys-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 continuously 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, despite 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,” admitted 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 -- exhibiting a determination and resilience that echoed Nyad’s own.
“A number of people have brought up that Rocky’s story is similar to my story, but 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 Florida Keys’ Turtle Hospital opened over 36 years ago as the world’s first state-licensed veterinary hospital specializing in sea turtles.
Diana Nyad, left, her expedition leader Bonnie Stoll, right, and staff from the The Turtle Hospital watch “Rocky,” a rehabilitated green sea turtle, crawl into the ocean at the same beach where Nyad arrived in Key West in 2013. Photo: Andy Newman
Ten years ago, nearly 2,000 people gathered at the same beach to welcome Nyad as she came ashore after swimming continuously for 52 hours and 54 minutes. Photo: Andy Newman
Nyad looks on as Rocky swims into the Atlantic Ocean. The 120-pound female green sea turtle recovered after surgery and rehabilitation at the Keys-based Turtle Hospital. Photo: Steve Panariello