By all means, the feat of U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad, who succeeded in swimming across the Florida Straits, is an event deserving global recognition. In her fifth attempt to cross the strait, Nyad has finally fulfilled her dream: she managed to swim 110 miles without a shark cage and having to struggle with jellyfish.
However, her achievement has created a dangerous precedent for many Havanans who have been cherishing the chimera of crossing the Straits of Florida for over fifty years. Such is the case of Antonio Medina, a Cuban living in the neighbourhood of Jaimanitas, who probably holds the record of failed attempts to illegally leave the country (20). He has taken Nyad’s deed as a sort of challenge and started to prepare himself “physically and mentally”, as he says, for a new attempt to escape what he calls “a punishment cage in shape of an island”.
Antonio lives between Streets 1 and 240 in Havana, a few meters from the sea. He has already tried to cross the strait in all kinds of vessels: from boats, rafts and cork barks to a special construction made of empty plastic bottles tied together with nylon fishing line, which has recently been confiscated by the Police. Another example of his famous vessels was a submarine made of aluminium tanks and an engine from a washing machine, which, however, didn’t work because he wasn’t able to find a way to store oxygen.
The U.S. swimmer has given him a proof that it is possible to cross the strait without any resources. Building cork barks and rafts requires tools and materials such as Styrofoam, candles, wood, screws, compasses and GPS, which are all very expensive and difficult to obtain. In case of Antonio, provision of these things has consumed all the scarce resources he has earned as a shoemaker for many years.
“Now I don’t need anything,” says Antonio happily, “I just need to keep swimming.” Full of hope, he examines the front page of the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald with a picture of Diana Nyad arriving at Smathers Beach in Miami with the headline reading “Never ever give up”. Antonio says that he will never give up, either, that he will finally succeed in fulfilling his dream in his twenty-first attempt.
Antonio doesn’t seem to realize that Diana’s achievement was far from simple. She needed a fleet of five ships, a team of 35 specialists, a neoprene wetsuit, special creams and a face mask protecting her against attacks by jellyfish. She was also accompanied by a team of doctors and nutritionists looking after her physical state and nutrition on the way.
However, Antonio laughs at what he calls “special effects used in Diana’s case.” He says that in his many failed attempts to get to the other side of the Straits of Florida, he has become familiar with the sea. The experience he has gained, he says, has become his passport. Instead of relying on a compass, he will let his instinct guide him. He believes that it will always lead him to the North. He also hopes that he will have a very serious talk with sharks, explaining them why he is escaping from the island. This will make them understand the righteousness of his cause and instead of devouring him, they will protect him on the way. The thing he is least worried about is food, because he sometimes spends more than three days without eating anything. Water won’t be a problem, either. He says that he has been drinking bad water from the only pipe from the street over fifty years.
Marina Hemingway, where Nyad started her way to glory, lies only a few steps from his home. Antonio takes it as a good sign. Now, is there anybody who would doubt that he will beat Diana’s record?