After more than 41 hours in the tempestuous waters of the Florida Straits, which brought repeated jellyfish stings, shark threats and hypothermia, Diana Nyad's crew pulled her from the water before dawn Tuesday.
Team Nyad called the marathon swim "record-breaking reality." And Nyad herself spoke only of teamwork, determination and ocean science education.
But by 4:30 p.m., the endurance swimmer arrived in Key West by boat, greeted by at least 100 supporters, friends, tourists and locals on Higgs Beach.
"I stand here tall and proud," said Nyad, who turns 63 today, after swimming the length of the White Street Pier as a ceremonial finish to her fourth failed attempt to cross the 103 miles of ocean from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage.
"No regrets, nothing," she said, blaming the jellyfish and the rough storms for quitting early, about 55 miles off the coast of Key West in the middle of the night. "I didn't get the final result, but what a magnificent experience it all was."
Early Tuesday, Nyad said her support staff and advisers told her she was looking at 40 more hours of swimming. She conceded to nature.
Even with her shark repellent team, doctors, boat captains and the rest of an almost 50-person support team, Nyad said the stormy seas overwhelmed the effort.
Nyad, however, appeared in healthy spirit and body at the edge of Higgs Beach, in a black and blue swimsuit that revealed a solid body along with the swollen lips and face, and saltwater-battered skin.
"I'm in better shape today at 62 than I was in my 20s," Nyad said. "I feel fine."
Her Key West friends, who have assisted her at the downtown guesthouse where Nyad has stayed for the past couple months, vouched for her physical fitness.
"When you hug her, there is not one ounce of squish," said Linda Todhunter, while waiting with the crowd for about two and a half hours for Team Nyad to roll to shore. "She's fit."
Terry Pratt, a Massachusetts-raised Key West resident who works at the guesthouse Nyad chose, isn't much of a sports fan. But Nyad drew her attention.
"Nobody impresses me much, but Diana Nyad impresses me," said Pratt. "She gives off this light. She's real."
Having first tried this Cuba-to-Key West swim in 1978, the world champion swimmer came out of retirement three years ago to begin training for another shot at this specific ocean swim record.
Last year, she made two attempts, thwarted by those fiery jellyfish stings. This time, she wore a full-body suit that left only her lips constantly exposed. The box jellyfish, with tentacles that Nyad said were as thin as a human hair, zapped her nine times on Monday night alone.
Nyad said she was looking forward to "tripping out" while swimming and letting her mind fill with existential thoughts, and theories on the meaning of life.
"We were almost the whole time in survival mode," she said, suggesting that she isn't planning on a fifth attempt.
"I'm not a quitter, but the sport and this part of the ocean are different than they used to be," Nyad said. "To me there is no joy in that."
Nyad didn't see any jellyfish in 1978. She wondered on Tuesday afternoon whether the wispy stingers will be lining the coast of Florida within a decade.
Under the blue skies along Higgs Beach, though, as the water lapped up behind her and friends had planted the American and Cuban flags as a makeshift grand entrance on the seawall steps -- freshly scrubbed and decorated with a Conch Republic beach towel -- Nyad greeted the crowd with her arms up in a victory pose.
They greeted her as a hometown hero.
"I think she's got to be the bravest person who ever came around Key West," said City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, who walked over to Higgs Beach from his home to watch Nyad's arrival. "This is history."
Several of the spectators smiled in admiration just at the mention of Nyad's attempt.
"She just keeps going. She's like 'Chariots of Fire,'" said Barbara Burton, 65, a retired commercial banker on vacation from Memphis who happened upon the Nyad return.
"It's such an accomplishment. I think she'll try again."