Maroney: Successful Crossing Helped by Last Year's Failure

MIAMI -- Australian swimmer Susie Maroney says knowing the waters from her last attempt helped her become the first person to swim solo from Cuba to Florida, covering the 200 kilometers in 25 hours.

"Knowing what was out there from the last time helped me in prepping my mind and mental attitude," 22-year-old Maroney told reporters after her historic swim Monday. Her first attempt last year ended 20 kilometers short of the U.S. shore.

This time she took a slightly U-shaped path of about 200 kilometers to avoid strong cross-currents between Havana and Key West.

"I'm so glad to be here. It's such a long way," Maroney told reporters moments after reaching Fort Taylor beach in Key West, the southernmost point of the United States.

"I did it for the sport. It's a stretch of water no one has ever swum before and I'm glad to have done it," the 1.68-meter, 57-kilogram swimmer said after leaving the shark-proof cage that protected her throughout her crossing.

Asked how she made the swim in less than the 40 hours initially estimated, she said: "We had strong currents."

The harrowing ordeal, however, took its toll. Hours after her swimming feat had ended, Maroney collapsed during a television interview and was taken to a hospital.

In addition to exhaustion, the distance swimmer suffered dozens of jellyfish stings.

During the final leg of her journey, two large sharks swam in circles around Maroney, said organizer Joe Pignatiello.

That's when the organizers considered having Maroney end her swim at uninhabited Sand Key, Florida, but the swimmer decided she felt good enough to swim the additional 10 kilometers to Key West.

The swimming feat more than doubled Maroney's own previous 24-hour distance record. The 22-year-old swam at a speed of eight kilometers an hour -- her actual swimming speed was 3.2 kilometers per hour, with the help of a strong current.

Maroney already holds the Guinness women's record for 24 hours of distance swimming (93 kilometers), the record for both sexes for the around-Manhattan swim and the fastest round-trip English Channel run.

Last year, rough waters in the strait generated a lot of turbulence in her shark-protection cage. After a gruelling try in which she fractured her wrists and burned off 11 kilograms, she called it quits in U.S. waters but before reaching the Florida shore.

This year, Maroney had some new technical devices to help her get through the fatigue, nausea and potential weather woes. Her cage was equipped with a boom to decrease turbulence, and her team used satellite readings to gauge the currents.

She took snack breaks every hour of cupcakes, babyfood and bananas washed down with fruit juice and hot chocolate.

Maroney said she was physically better prepared for the swim this time around, but noted that the disadvantage was knowing how hard it would be.

Maroney took up swimming at three years old to strengthen her lungs after she was diagnosed with asthma.