Midway through her attempt to become the first person to swim
from Cuba to the U.S., 22-year-old Susie Maroney confronted her
biggest obstacle: darkness. "Seconds become hours; minutes
become days," she says. "You can't see anything. Depression sets
in. It is a loneliness you cannot imagine." To pass the night,
Maroney mused on her favorite television programs and movies.
"Toward sunrise I started having the most happy thoughts," she
says. "Do you recall that Seinfeld episode where George pretends
to be a marine biologist? I love that one. And I passed two more
hours playing back every scene from my favorite movie, The Big
Blue. It was just wonderful."
Maroney swam on, surrounded by a 20-by-8-by-8-foot shark cage
that was being towed by the 65-foot trawler Acadian and attended
to by a crew of nine. At 12:17 on the morning of May 12--24
hours and 34 minutes after she had dived off the Malecon seawall
in Havana--she emerged from the surf at Fort Zachary Taylor
State Park on Key West, the first person to have swum the
treacherous 107 miles of open sea, profiting from ideal
conditions to beat by nearly 16 hours her projected time.
Last June, in a failed attempt at the same swim, Maroney had
become so seasick battling thunderstorms and 10-foot swells that
she was unable to go more than 15 minutes without vomiting. This
time when she reached the Gulf Stream, approximately 20 miles
off Havana, she found calm seas and a brisk southeast wind.
Maroney occasionally did become disoriented--once she thought
she saw monkeys climbing the walls of the shark cage--but she
did not lose her appetite. At the top of each hour, she took a
minute to devour yogurt, mashed bananas, baby food and Gatorade.
She eased the sting of jellyfish by applying gobs of Vaseline.
"There was danger," Maroney says, "but I still much prefer it to
swimming in a pool."
In fact, she laughingly calls a 48-km race around Manhattan in
1994 more perilous than the trek from Cuba. "Before the race we
learned there was a dead body floating in the water," she says.
"Then there were the dead rats that I kept swimming into."
COLOR PHOTO: TANIA JOVANOVIC/SABA [Susie Maroney]