Abby Nunn Conquers Cuba-to-Florida 104-mile Swim

UVA medical student reaches Key West after 38-hour ordeal


When Abby Nunn gingerly clambered ashore with her own two feet at 8:33pm yesterday evening in Key West, she became the first person to successfully make the crossing from Cuba to U.S. soil. Nunn, a first-year medical student at the University of Virginia, began her odyssey at 6:27am on Friday near Havana, and earned the historic distinction on her first attempt, unassisted and without a shark cage. She was in the water for 38 hours, six minutes, and preliminary data indicated that she logged approximately 104.912134123 miles.

"Wait a that Miami or Manhattan?"

“Wait a minute…is that Miami or Manhattan?”

“A lot of my classmates said they were heading to Florida for spring break. It turns out that I was, too, it’s just that my route was a little more unorthodox. It was an awful trip, actually, I felt seasick the entire way and was popping Dramamine every hour…it was absolutely no fun, so it’s one-and-done,” said Nunn, 21.

Nunn set off near Playas del Este, just east of Havana on the north coast of Cuba, at 6:27am Friday, March 29. The water temperature was 65 to 68 degrees most of the way, and she battled 3 to 4 foot waves in the most treacherous stretch. Although pushed off course near the finish, she was able to climb ahore at Mallory Square, where she downed a mojito and allowed the crowd of sunset revelers to help her disintangle from some fishing nets and kelp that she dragged along for the final 10 miles.

Diana Nyad, who had to abandon a much-publicized attempt at an “Xtreme Dream” last summer, was reached by phone in Havana, where she is preparing for her 338th attempt at the crossing. “My hat goes off to Abby, it’s an epic performance, one for the record books, no doubt, although I don’t think she sustained nearly as many man o’war stings or shark bites as I did last August. Don’t get me wrong, she deserves some credit, but come on, she’s only 21, and sea creatures are notorious for going easy on young little waifs like her. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve seen the video- she was drafting off of sea turtles and dolphins, while I had to punch hammerheads with my fists and heels.”

"Who's Diana Nyad? Does she have guns like mine?"

“Does Diana Nyad have guns like mine?”

Nunn, who is a not-so-distant relative of the Castro family, has had permission from the Cuban government to do the swim since before she matriculated to Yale, but said she was waiting for Nyad to complete the swim first due to what she called “overblown media hoopla.” After the effort, Nunn reportedly told the media, “yeah, it was kinda tough, but it’s just water and some little jelly fish, and you guys treat this swim as if someone were trying to scale Everest with an old pair of Converse sneakers, a plastic spork, and no ropes. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Nunn, who was so inspired by Nyad’s “Xtreme Dream” motto that she paid her respects by writing “Dramamine Dream” on her swim cap, has been training non-stop since last June for this opportunity. In May, the Yale graduate and four-year varsity swimmer was admitted into top- tier medical schools including Harvard, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins, but chose Virginia because of its unique webinar offerings. “I’ve been taking all the same classes and labs as my fellow students, but I’ve been doing it while living in Plantation Key and swimming 12-14 hours a day in the Florida Bay.”

Abby drafted off some friends during her historic swim.

Abby drafted off some friends during her historic swim.

To accomplish the feat, Nunn had to learn to cope with tachycardia, hemiballismus, glossitis, coprolalia, sleep deprivation, tide changes, tinnitus secondary to seasonal sirens from mating whales, and long stretches of darkness, tedium, and Gilligan’s Island re-runs. In addition, she trained herself to eat hohos, ding-dongs, and twinkies while doing backstroke; to suture wounds with a girl scout mess kit tucked in her suit; and finally, to administer her own IV. “I also figured out how to nap without skipping a stroke. It’s really not that hard — with the right darkness, mood music, and scotch in your IV, you can snore like a hobo while the arms keep churning. Some people like to count sheep; well, I was counting manatees.”

Nunn’s previous distance record was last June, when she won the famous Manhattan Island Marathon swim (28.5 miles). As for upcoming swims, she is putting that off until her boards are complete in a few weeks. “I’ve always wanted to try swimming around Ireland, but that would require swimming around the clock, and I just can’t decide if it’s more wise, clock-wise that is, to go clockwise or counter-clockwise.”

Sly Huckster
VMST Sports Writer


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