Diana Nyad Fact Check
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CLAIM:  "I was the first woman to swim around Manhattan...." [2015, FIND A WAY, p. 66.]
FACT:  Nyad was not the first—she was the 7th—and she has known that for over 40 years.

In her 1978 memoir, OTHER SHORES, Nyad acknowledges two of the women who preceded her around the island:

[T]he first woman completed the circuit [on September 24, 1916]. Ida Elionsky's time was a very respectable 11 hours, 35 minutes. There were others who made the swim...., but I will simply mention the male and female record holders. Diane Struble plunged into the Battery waters on August 15, 1959, and reached her original starting point in 11 hours, 21 minutes. [p. 57]
Yet, at some point after the swim, Nyad began proclaiming that she had been the first woman to circle the island.

...[I]n 1975, I found that not only had Gertrude Ederle never swum around Manhattan. No other woman had done it, either.... I was determined to be the first. [KCRW, Jun 21, 2007]

According to Morty Berger, founder of NYC Swim (the organization that until recently oversaw Manhattan circumnavigations), "for years NYC Swim endeavored to get Ms. Nyad to cease with her claims, but she ignored our requests and outreach…." In 2011, after CNN investigated at the behest of NYC Swim, Nyad professed ignorance and retracted her claim in a blog post she titled "History Rewritten….to my GREAT Surprise!":

...I hereby relinquish my title as the first woman. Nobody can ever take the glory of that day from me. And the title of fastest at the time still goes under my name. But for The First Woman, this honor belongs to others [sic]. [Jun 9, 2011 via Wayback Machine. See also Berger's message to the NY Times and this message.]

By the next year, Nyad was back to her old story. In a documentary short from 2012, she again declares that she was the first woman to swim around Manhattan. [see "Diana: A Documentary," July, 2012, at 4:00. See also "The Hunger...," Elle, May 25, 2012]

Nyad devotes an entire chapter of her 2015 memoir, FIND A WAY, to her Manhattan "first." More recently, she made the claim on Facebook.

Update, 29 June 2019: Janet Filips, writing for the Journal Herald in Dayton, Ohio, recorded the earliest version (so far) of Nyad's Manhattan first: "Digging through the library, she discovered 11 men had done it—and decided to be the first woman." (I swam 20 years; I had enough, 31 Oct 1981)

CLAIM:  "The paper of record at the time declared...that I had become the first woman ever to swim around the most famous island in the world." [Jun 9, 2011 blog post via Wayback Machine]
FACT:  Not only does the paper of record make no such claim, but it names the previous record holder. See "Woman Swimmer Circles Manhattan on her 2d Attempt," New York Times, Oct 7, 1975. Excerpt here, detail on right.


CLAIM:  "There are a couple who are 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.
Above right: Diana Nyad swimming around Manhattan Island, 1975. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
—Carl Sagan

Sleeping Octopus

Compiled by Daniel Slosberg

updated 6/29/19
© 2016