Diana Nyad Fact Check
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MISC. MALARKEY details

EMBROIDERING THE BOX

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. This may seem like a minor quibble, but it's an example of how Nyad exaggerates practically everything.

Jellyfish experts told me that Nyad's facts are, to paraphrase, utter nonsense. For the "touched by a tentacle" claim, see...
...among many others.

For the "1000 species" claim" and for general box jellyfish info, see:

On the Number of Species
"Although Cubozoa is the smallest class of Cnidaria, comprising some 50 described box jellyfish species, it is well known for several remarkable attributes." [Evolution of box jellyfish....]

"...some 50 described species in seven families." [An illustrated key and synopsis....]

On Fatilities
"In fatally envenomed victims death may occur in less than ten minutes (usually within 20 minutes) after contact with C. fleckeri tentacles...." [Dose and time dependence of box jellyfish antivenom]

"The dreaded box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) of northern Australia contains one of the most potent animal venoms known to man. A sting from one of these creatures can induce death in minutes.... [Divers Alert Network: Marine Life Trauma]

"Certain box jellyfish stings can kill a person within minutes. Other box jellyfish stings can lead to death in 4 to 48 hours...." [Jellyfish Stings]

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

 

NYAD'S PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS

CLAIM:  "For ten years (1969-1979), Diana Nyad was known as the greatest long-distance swimmer in the world." [TED bio. See also diananyad.com, HuffPost, FFA, Action Maverick Award, Barnard College, Lake Forest College, LiveTalksLA, etc.]

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 that Nyad was well aware of:

Diana Nyad: "At the close of the 1974 season there is absolutely no professional swimmer or anyone knowledgeable about the sport who can deny that Sandy Bucha is the best female to date." [Letter to parents of Sandra Bucha, December 4, 1974. ISHOF Archive.]

Among female swimmers besides Sandra Bucha (who beat Nyad every time they swam against each other), Penny Dean--holder of the English Channel record for almost 20 years--would also be in the running for greatest female swimmer of the seventies. The dominant long-distance swimmer of either gender was John Kinsella. He, Bucha, and Dean are all ISHOF inductees. Nyad is not (see below).

For more details on this claim, please see "The Greatest."

CLAIM:  She swam in the Olympics.

FACT:  She never qualified for the Olympics.

Nyad's promotional materials declare that "the mantra—find a way—...enabled her to realize a dream in her sixties that had eluded her as a young Olympian in peak form." [see LiveTalksLA, Lib. Jrnl., STL Co. Lib., etc.] But Nyad herself writes that this isn't true: "The Olympics were no longer a reality for me. Not even a distant fantasy." [FIND A WAY, p. 50]

This claim figures into Nyad's corner of the Hillary Clinton e-mail brouhaha. In 2010, after Nyad failed to procure U.S. government clearance for her second Cuba-to-Florida attempt, she approached lobbyist Hilary Rosen for help. Rosen in turn emailed her friend, then-Secretary of State Clinton. Rosen's message, part of an exchange that WikiLeaks made public, begins...

HRC: 
You may remember many years ago when olympic champion swimmer diana nyad tried to swim from cuba to florida and failed…. Diana wants to try again.... ["A UNIQUE REQUEST FOR YOUR HELP FROM HILARY ROSEN." For more on this episode—though not the claim—see "...how swimmer Diana Nyad Got Clearance...," and FIND A WAY, p. 151-152]
The Nyad story, by the way, was not the only aquatic concern of Secretary Clinton that WikiLeaks laid bare. See also "Hillary Clinton's Fight for Gefilte Fish."

CLAIM:  She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

FACT:  The International Swimming Hall of Fame never inducted Diana Nyad.

Among the sources stating that Nyad was inducted into the ISHOF are KCRW, AARP, and Athlete Promotions. But the ISHOF never inducted her—see the list of honorees. In 2002, however, Nyad received the ISHOF's Al Schoenfield Media Award.


"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
—Carl Sagan

Sleeping Octopus

Compiled by Daniel Slosberg
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last updated 9/2/17
© 2016