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Diana Nyad, at 61, swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage

Diana Nyad, an endurance swimmer, says that her 103-mile swim will show that 'we have many, many years of vitality and strength and service left in us.'

American endurance swimmer Diana Nyad swims in Cuban waters, offshore Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. Nyad left Sunday evening and set off in a bid to become the first person to swim across the Florida Straits without the aid of a shark cage.

Franklin Reyes/AP

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With a calm sea before her and destiny on her mind, 61-year-old American swimmer Diana Nyad plunged into the Straits of Florida at dusk Sunday to begin what she hopes will be a world record 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida.

Wearing a black bathing suit and blue swimming cap, she methodically stroked her way north through crystal clear waters, accompanied by a small fleet of boats that included Cuban well wishers seeing her off the communist island and the 45-member team that will accompany her on the 60-hour journey.

"I'm standing here in the prime of my life,'' she said before jumping into the sea. "Now I look out at a dead, flat calm, so I think this is my day.''

She swam through "a dark, overcast" night, with a "hazy moon overhead," according to her twitter account.

Onlookers at the Marina Hemingway on the outskirts of Havana applauded and shouted "Buena suerte'' -- good luck -- as she swam away with a fiery orange sunset to her west and encroaching darkness from the east.

Nyad waited until the daytime winds had died so she could start her quest in quiet seas.

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