Wearing a pink swim cap, Diana Nyad dove into the 40-yard pool set up in Herald Square and began doing laps shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday. Her aim is to raise money for people still struggling a year after Sandy.
"It's going to be so magical to be out there," she said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. "It's going to be a spectacle right in the middle of New York City."
Last month, the native New Yorker became the first person to have swum from Havana to Key West, Fla., without a shark cage.
She told the AP that one of her Manhattan swimming companions will be a dog named Roscoe that survived Sandy floodwaters. Also expected to join her are Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte and Richard Simmons, dressed in a suit graced with about 300 Swarovski crystals.
Nyad said she may break otherwise strict athletic rules by hugging some of the humans joining her in the two-lane pool. "I'm going to feel the solidarity. And every penny is going to go right to the victims."
Contributions are being accepted by the disaster relief agency AmeriCares Foundation, which will distribute the funds.
Nyad's fame for her swim from Cuba was accompanied by speculation that she had gotten into or held onto a boat during part of her 53-hour journey. But on Monday, she waved off critics, saying, "there will always be naysayers."
She insisted she wore no flippers, used no cage, did not get out of the water and was never supported by another human being for what she calls "the most epic swim in history."
Nyad expects the Manhattan swim to be far more fun than her feat in the ocean, which she expected to be "much more unforgiving" than two days of urban pool laps.
After this, she said she's looking to more "personal, creative" charity events using the portable pool - possibly to raise money for victims of tornadoes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks and other disasters.
And, she added with a grin, she may want to try her hand at another solo event - maybe a one-woman show on Broadway. She offered no details.