MIAMI - Diana Nyad swam into the history books on Monday, completing a marathon three-day crossing from Cuba to Florida to become the first person to do so without a protective shark cage.
The 64-year-old American, who left a Havana yacht club early Saturday, arrived on a Key West beach to realise her lifetime quest after four previous attempts failed amid stormy weather and jellyfish attacks.
"I've got three messages," a visibly exhausted Nyad, her face puffy and sunburned, told cheering crowds as she walked ashore.
"One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you never are too old to chase your dreams."
"Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team," Nyad added in a nod to her supporters. She was accompanied by five boats and a team of divers as she braved the perilous waters.
Initially, the veteran swimmer had hoped to complete the treacherous 100-mile (160-kilometer) trek in 80 hours. But in the end, she did it in 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds, according to her Facebook page.
"Diana Nyad, 64, has successfully and powerfully realised her #XtremeDream," the posting said.
"Her eyes burned with intensity, her body refusing to quit."
Nyad's pursuit was followed closely by people around the globe, who took to social media to first encourage and then congratulate her.
Even the White House, preoccupied with the conflict in Syria, tweeted on behalf of President Barack Obama: "Congratulations to @diananyad. Never give up on your dreams."