Canada's 1971 marathon season was about to begin. Chicoutimi was the first race, with an unusually large field of 30 entered, and Diana was out of shape. So out of shape, in fact, that at 20 miles. Buck wrote this on his signboard: YOU'RE IN SECOND. Diana shook her head. "I knew I wasn't near Iglesias, and 1 didn't think I could be with Johan Schans [the 1970 world champion]. I saw a pack of guys off to my left, all stronger sprinters than me, so I decided to pour it on and not conserve my energy for the end. Soon I was about a mile ahead and I looked up at Buck during a breath and said, 'Schans.' He wrote: SCHANS OUT. LEG CRAMPS. So to be optimistic I said, 'Horacio,' and Buck pointed ahead and held up a fresh sign: 300 YARDS AHEAD! Oh, my God, I saw him. We came to the rocks. Horacio went by them wide, I went close, and—oh, it was beautiful—I caught a tidal eddy and went about 500 yards in what seemed like 10 seconds."
At that point, 22 miles into the third marathon of her life, Diana Nyad was No. 1 in the world, men and women, but everyone watches the first swimmer.
"I saw Horacio's trainer pointing to me, and Horacio swam over and went right by me. I said to myself, 'I'm not going to sprint here.' About a mile after the rocks, I was still in second. Then I looked around and there were bathing caps everywhere. 'Oh, God,' I thought, 'six miles to go,' and my lack of conditioning started to hit me."
Half a mile from the finish at Chicoutimi the swimmers pass between two breakwaters into a harbor full of boats, where a crowd of 20,000 is packed into stands on the shore. The swimmers are expected to sprint down this stretch. "You've swum 27� miles," Diana groans, "and they want you to sprint half a mile. It's inhuman." She was fifth when the sprint began; she wound up seventh, in eight hours and 46 minutes. There were 10 finishers.
Eight hours and 46 minutes is fast for a woman at Chicoutimi, but by any standards it is a long time to swim. For normal people it is a long time to do anything, even sleep, which is one reason, along with the rocks and the rips, why Chicoutimi touts its race as the world's toughest. Among those who disagree is a group that does not believe in any sleep at all for swimmers—the promoters of Diana Nyad's next race, which came a week later at La Tuque, Quebec. There are no rocks or rips at La Tuque, but, unlike Chicoutimi, there is no rest for the weary after nine hours or 16 or 20.
The La Tuque race begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, continues through the night nonstop and ends at 3 p.m. Sunday. What do they call someone who swims in his sleep? The race they call Le Marathon de 24 Heures de La Tuque, a team affair—16 of them this time—if two can be called a team. The course is a three-eighths-mile oval in Lake St. Louis, and behind a fence from start to finish are 35,000 screaming French Canadians, more than twice the population of La Tuque.
This year most of the partners alternated three-lap stints, resting in between for half an hour or so—but not sleeping—in little, heated tents. (The air temperature at night dropped to 42�.) But Diana had a different plan—one lap and rest, despite it being less fatiguing to keep swimming for at least two or three laps than to stop and start again. ("You've got nothing to worry about," a big-bellied male swimmer assured her, "the hospital is right nearby.") Diana's partner was Gaston Par�, and his rest periods turned out to be seven minutes and 21 seconds long, which was Diana's lap average, and a new woman's record for La Tuque. In the 24 hours, they swam 54 miles.
The loudest cheers at the race's end were for Diana, who spoke to everyone in French, and for Gaston Par�, from nearby Shawinigan. Picked for seventh they had finished third, behind Schans and Iglesias and Abou-Heif and Marawan Saleh. Diana still was not wearing goggles, and she finished with a hemorrhaging eye, though she didn't know it. For half an hour she lay unconscious in the nearby hospital, awakening with a meal of glucose entering her arm.
That evening the race committee presented her with a bouquet of 22 chrysanthemums—her 22nd birthday was a month off—and two roses, signifying the 24 hours. And Abou-Heif, The Crocodile of the Nile, told the press: "Diana has the stuff of a champion." Says Buck Dawson, "She's almost like Joan of Arc in that town now." Says Diana, "It was the first time I really got respect from my fellow swimmers."
"Diana has a great deal of pride," Jack Nelson says. "She respects herself and expects it from others." He shows a letter he received from her following the La Tuque swim: "I've been in four marathon swims now, and after each one I've heard the winner say he'd never do it again. I said the same thing, and now, four days later, I'm planning to enter another very soon. These swims have a deep-felt effect on me. I need to share them with someone who is capable of understanding."