5 days in the life of ...

The long-distance swimming sensation from Australia finds she is a heroine to Fidel Castro
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The Independent Online
MONDAY: It was around 5am when I swam into a beach in Cuba. I'd been in the water for 38 hours and swum 204km from Mexico. I'd had no sleep and I had to do live TV crosses to Australia at 2am and 3am, then Good Morning America at 7am. I was pretty tired. Last year, I did Cuba to Key West, and I thought this time I would do a swim that was a little bit longer. I was hallucinating a lot during the night. Physically, you get as fit as you can but the rest is mental attitude. If you think you are going to give up, you will. What I do is think about my family. Or I would think about Seinfeld episodes that had made me laugh or sing my favourite Madonna songs. I was swimming mainly freestyle because I wanted to get it over, but when I got seasick, I did breaststroke. After finishing, it took us another eight hours to get to Havana on the boat, but I didn't sleep because I was itching from jellyfish stings.

TUESDAY: Still recovering. I was getting eaten alive by jellyfish, and my body was scarred all over with stings, yucky and pus-filled, and they won't stop itching. I swam in a metal cage, about six feet deep, because of the sharks. We saw 10 dolphins and a turtle, and there were all these flying fish that would hit me on the back. It was quite warm in the water, and I wore a bathing-suit and cap and goggles. My brothers, Michael and Sean, came on the boat alongside me; I like them to sit next to me on the cage so that when I breathe, I can see their faces. They do five-hour shifts, and have a long stick to put in water for me to drink. I usually stop every hour, but I couldn't swallow much, just some yoghurt and babyfood. My tongue had swelled up because of the salt. My ankles are still swollen too, from bashing them on the cage.

WEDNESDAY: I couldn't believe what happened today. I was invited to meet Fidel Castro. His palace is made of Cuban marble and pine. It's just awesome. My family and I spent four-and-a-half hours with him around a long table, and he was asking lots of questions about my nutrition and things. He had a secretary and a translator and spoke in Spanish because he had so much to ask. I was just looking at him in disbelief. Last year, he'd come to the marina after my Key West swim. He's very intelligent and softly-spoken, and he said, "Everything here in Cuba is free for you".

THURSDAY: Got my photos back of me with the President, and did some interviews. I don't mind because it helps with sponsorship: it cost about $80,000 to do the swim, and Channel 7 in Australia helped with a little bit, but the rest is my own money. I started to swim when I was three, to build my lungs up because I was born with asthma. In Australia, I'm the ambassador for asthma, so I do a lot of charity things. I only have it mildly now: it's really the swimming that made me better. I train in Sydney for three hours each morning and three hours at night, with Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. When I was 15, I decided to swim the English Channel. If I could swim for a career, I'd love to, but at the moment I'm doing motivational talks and I'd like to get into sports commentary. For the time being, I'm just enjoying these long swims. My boat-captain is already planning the next one, but I'm not sure where.

FRIDAY: Fidel Castro arranged for us to go to a beach two hours from Havana. He said, "What would you like to do?" and I said, "Stay at one of your beaches". He had me give him my resume and was going to talk to Ted Turner about getting sponsors. I started crying. I couldn't help it. That just topped the swim. Nothing came close to this.

Interview by Rachelle Thackray