Havana: US swimmer Diana Nyad - the first to swim across the Florida Straits without a shark cage — was presented with Cuba's Order of Sporting Merit on Saturday, the first American athlete to receive the award.
Nyad, after four failed attempts, successfully swam from Cuba to Key West Florida in September 2013 without a shark cage, in a 53-hour feat.
Speaking in Spanish, the 65-year-old said the Cuban award was "the most precious honour of my whole life."
"The dream is also to connect our great countries one day – it's my dream and that of millions of people," she said, referring to the half-century-long dispute between Washington and the Americas' only communist government in Havana.
Diane Nyad relaxes before a swim in Lake Ontario on August 28, 1974. Pic/Getty Images
First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, also head of Cuba's Olympic Committee, said Nyad had been given the award in "recognition of her prowess, as a symbol of friendship between our peoples."
Nyad said her next attempted feat of endurance will be to walk across the United States from California to Washington "to draw attention to the problem of obesity," followed by another project in Cuba to try to boost US-Cuba relations.
She also said she wanted to build an Olympic pool in Cuba for swimmers to "have a better chance to train."