Diana Nyad Fact Check

Diana Nyad may be the best-known marathon swimmer in the world. Less known is her history of factual inaccuracies and exaggerations that begin at least as far back as her Manhattan Island swim.

For more, please visit the Diana Nyad Fact Check Annex.


Manhattan | English Channel | Olympic Trials | Walter Poenisch | Cuba-Florida | Misc. | References

MANHATTAN ISLAND     details & citations

CLAIM: "I was the first woman to swim around Manhattan...."
FACT: Nyad chooses to ignore the six pioneering swimmers who preceded her:


"The paper of record at the time declared...that I had become the first woman...."
FACT:  The paper of record made no such claim.

CLAIM:  "There are a couple...haters who are still out there. They think I'm [a] total fraud, that I didn't do anything I said. I didn't swim around Manhattan Island....." [Interview, Miami Dade College, Aug 31, 2016]
FACT:  No one claims that Nyad didn't swim around Manhattan—only that she was not the first woman. [See photo of "Diana Nyad swimming around Manhattan Island"]

THE ENGLISH CHANNEL     details & citations

CLAIM  "The only...world-class swim I had tried and failed at back in my twenties was going from Cuba to Florida."

FACT:  In her twenties, Nyad attempted the English Channel three times without success.



OLYMPIC TRIALS     details & citations

CLAIM:  In her 2015 Lake Forest College commencement address, Nyad describes swimming in the 1968 Olympic trials: "...[A]nd then it came, the Olympic trials, a little too early for me. I was…walking down that pool deck to that 100 meter backstroke. Three are going on to the elite heat. Mexico City. The United States uniforms. And five are going on to the rest of their lives."

FACT:  Nyad never qualified for the Olympic trials.


APOLOGY TO WALTER POENISCH     details & citations

In July of 1978, Walter Poenisch became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Nyad slandered him in the press, causing him to lose his sponsors and his reputation. Poenisch sued Nyad. He won an out of court settlement and a perfunctory letter of retraction. The International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted Walter Poenisch on August 26, 2017.


"I wish that I could look up to the sky and tell Walter that I am profusely sorry...."

FACT:  Nyad's apology to Poenisch was grudging and self-serving at best.

CUBA-TO-FLORIDA, 2013     details & citations  

Until members of Nyad's inner circle come forward, it will be difficult to definitively prove her Cuba-to-Florida duplicity. However, the two videos below show how Nyad's GPS data betrays her protestations of squeaky cleanliness. Her other Cuba/Florida claims follow.

Traversing the Gulf Stream, what Nyad calls
"the most powerful current on earth," she maintained
an almost perfectly straight course from Cuba to Florida.
During a storm on the 2nd night of her swim, Nyad
treaded water straight towards Key West at 3 miles per hour,
the same speed she held before and after the storm.


THE CALL    details

CLAIM:  In a conference call shortly after her crossing, Nyad convinced all but one or two "haters" that she swam "from the rocks of Cuba to the beach of Florida in squeaky clean, ethical faction."
FACT:  Nyad fabricates almost everything she says about the call. Most if not all of the people on that call remain skeptical of Nyad's claims.


THE FLORIDA 44    details

CLAIM:  44 people—the number of folks accompanying Nyad on her swim—"wouldn't collude in fraud."
FACT:  44 people would not have been necessary.



CLAIM:  Nyad told Tavis Smiley that, during a storm on the 2nd night, "we just tread water" for at least one hour and twenty minutes.
If she did tread water during the storm, Nyad gives us the best evidence so far that hanky-panky ensued during that second night. Her speed remained constant during the two hours before the storm, during the storm, and during the hour after the storm (see "Treader Shredder" above). Nyad either lied to Smiley or lied about the swim or lied about both.

NOTES ON NOTES    details

CLAIM:  Nyad's observers took "very specific long notes for every minute" in order to show that the swim was legal.
FACT:  The observer reports contain inaccuracies, oversights, and huge gaps—including one of over 6 hours.


CLAIM:  "We did not break one rule.... Trust me, this dream [is] too important to me to have any slight thing outside the fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport…."
FACT:  Nyad followed some marathon swimming rules and ignored others.


CLAIM:  "I never...touched a boat or another person."
FACT:  "I was touched."


CLAIM:  "We proved without a shadow of a doubt that I swam without any assistance whatsoever from shore to shore."
FACT:  Nyad never proved that she swam all the way from Cuba to Florida.


CLAIM:  "I'm sure this swim will be ratified in due time...."
FACT:  To date, more than five years after the attempt, the swim remains unratified.

MISC. MALARKEY     details & citations  

"It’s true I used to lie.... Only to impress myself.
I would tell a cab driver a lie—anybody. I don’t have to do that anymore."
--"What Makes Diana Nyad Swim?," by Jane Shapiro, The Village Voice. Feb 2, 1976.


CLAIM: If you are touched by the tentacle of the species of box jellyfish that Nyad encountered, you will most likely "die instantaneously."
FACT: Unless you are a shrimp or a small fish, your chance of dying instantaneously is almost zero.

CLAIM:  There are over 1000 species of the box jellyfish.
FACT: There are less than 100.

CLAIM:   Box jellyfish almost killed Nyad in 2011.
FACT:   Portuguese Men O'War stung Nyad that year—painful but not life-threatening. See CNN's "Jellyfish, currents cut short Cuba-to-Florida swim."



CLAIM:  "For ten years (1969-1979), Diana Nyad was known as the greatest long-distance swimmer in the world."
FACT:  Nyad may have been the most well-known and most highly promoted long-distance swimmer of the 70s, but she was not the greatest, a fact of which she is well aware.

CLAIM:  She swam in the Olympics.
FACT:  She never qualified for the Olympics.

CLAIM:  She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
FACT:  The International Swimming Hall of Fame never inducted Diana Nyad--see the list here.

Finally, here are two troubling issues that have little to do with swimming
but everything to do with how Diana Nyad will lie about anything.


CLAIM:  "I...am a victim of sexual abuse by my swim coach" ("Swim Coaches Caught"). Nyad elaborates on this claim in a New York Times opinion piece, "Diana Nyad: My Life After Sexual Assault," in Find a Way, and elsewhere.
FACT:  The facts Nyad provides undermine rather than support her allegation. See "Addressing Diana's Op-Ed" and "Diana's Op-Ed Goes Live."


CLAIM: Nyad often claims to have met a woman who underwent horrific sexual abuse during the Holocaust.
FACT:  Nyad fabricates most of the story she tells about this woman. See "Diana Nyad's Unspeakable Lie, part 1."


"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
—Carl Sagan

Sleeping Octopus

compiled by Daniel Slosberg
updated 8/6/20
© 2019