By Jeff Franks
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad said she would try again on Friday to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage after she failed in an attempt last month.
Nyad, 62, planned to leave Friday evening from Havana's Hemingway Marina in hopes of finally completing the 103-mile swim across the Florida Straits she first tried in 1978 at the age of 28.
On August 9 a lengthy asthma attack, shoulder pain and heavy seas forced her to abandon her second try at the swim after 29 hours and more than 50 miles of swimming.
She told a news conference at the marina she had learned from the failed swim that she has the strength to make it to Florida. The swim is expected to take about 60 hours.
"I knew getting almost half across like a dying floundering fish ... to go that far, I thought, 'If I had my body healthy, I can do this. I know I can do it and I don't want to train another year,'" said the broad-shouldered, darkly tanned swimmer.
Nyad, who has worked as a sports journalist after retiring from marathon swimming years ago, said making the swim was an attempt to inspire people her age to do things they did not think they could do.
Her problems in the August attempt had nothing to do with her age, she insisted.
"At the age of 62, I honestly believe I'm in the best shape of my whole life," she said.
She also said the swim was an attempt promote better U.S.-Cuba relations after years of bitterness.
CALM SEAS EXPECTED
Nyad said weather forecasts called for calm seas through the weekend, giving her a small window before seasonal changes in wind and water temperature make the crossing too difficult.
Her attempts in 1978 and last month were plagued by wind and waves.
The Florida Straits crossing was successfully completed in May 1997 by Australian Susan Maroney, then 22, but she swam in a cage to protect her from sharks.
Nyad will be protected in the strait's warm, shark-infested waters by an anti-shark device that uses a mild electrical current to shield her from the predators.
She will be accompanied by a small fleet of boats and about 30 people.
The only thing she will do differently this swim is have medicine ready in case of another asthma attack or more shoulder problems. She also plans also to eat more during her periodic breaks for liquids and nourishment.
Nyad broke records by swimming around Manhattan in 1975 in less than eight hours and by completing a 102.5 mile swim from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.
After she gave up the swim in August, she said she did not expect to try again.
"You don't beat Mother Nature ... I think I'm going to have to go to my grave without swimming from Cuba to Florida," she told CNN at the time.
But on Friday she said that no longer applied.
"Never listen to athletes when they say it's the end," Nyad said.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott)