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Athlete Tries to Kayak Shark-Infested Havana-Key West Stretch

An accomplished but legally blind athlete is kayaking the shark-filled Florida Straits, calling it a "wonderful opportunity."
Image: Peter Crowley
Peter Crowley, a legally blind athlete who will kayak from Havana to Key West.Roberto Leon / NBC News

HAVANA, CUBA -- Peter Crowley believes there’s no excuse for not trying. Born with optic atrophy and legally blind, that has not stopped him from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, skiing dozens of Adirondack trails, paddling from Albany to New York City and crossing the English Channel in a solo red kayak.

The accomplished athlete brought that same canoe to Cuba where he aims to cross the shark-filled waters of the Florida Straits. He left Havana’s International Yacht Club shortly after 12 p.m. Friday with his son Peter Jr. paddling alongside him in a blue kayak. Traveling some 4 miles an hour, the team hopes to reach Key West, Florida, about 100 miles away, within 24 hours.

Peter Crowley, with his son. Crowley is aiming to kayak the shark-filled Florida Straits.Roberto Leon / NBC News

The waters are treacherous and challenging for any athlete. Australian marathon swimmer Susan Maroney was 22 in 1997 when she became the first athlete to complete the swim with the help of a shark cage, after failing more than once.

Last year, distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, finally made it across the Straits without a shark cage after failing four times. Last August, Tennessee musician Ben Friberg, 35, took 28 hours to paddle his 14-foot long board from Havana to Florida, a journey he said was designed to “promote peace and understanding” between feuding Washington and Havana.

Peter Crowley, a legally blind athlete who will kayak from Havana to Key West.Roberto Leon / NBC News

Crowley, who turns 57 next month, is hoping his journey will “inspire others to challenge themselves whether they are disabled or not."

Since he was a child, Crowley said, he “never accepted the idea that a disability defined what I could or could not do. There are wonderful opportunities out there waiting to be experienced.”

- Mary Murray