Diana Nyad Fact Check
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A retired baker from Ohio, Walter Poenisch, became "the first person to swim from Cuba to the United States on July 13, 1978. The International Swimming Hall of Fame recently inducted Poenisch "as a 'Pioneer' and...one of the first to use his swimming talents to promote a greater cause."

CLAIM:  "I wish that I could look up to the sky and tell Walter that I am profusely sorry...." ["Diana Nyad's Great Regret," WSJ, Nov 14, 2013]

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

Before and after Poenisch's Cuba to Florida swim—a crossing that he called "The Swim For Peace" and that he had been planning for 15 years—Diana Nyad denigrated and slandered him:

"With all due respect to the aged, a man who's 64 years old and very overweight is not going to swim for two days nonstop." [June 26, 2013, Miami Herald]

"He's not a legal marathon swimmer.... He does not swim by the rules. He's a gimmick.... In the world of sports, he's a cheat." [NY Times, July 14, 1978]

"I've been calling the Swimming Hall of Fame about this guy who claims he's done some ninety-mile swim, and of course it's illegitimate, ridiculous." ["Diana Nyad: The Obsession of the Long-Distance Swimmer," by Jane Shapiro. Ms. Magazine, August 1978]

Miami Herald reporter Steve Sonsky "...informed [Walter and his wife Faye] that, during an interview, Nyad herself had said horrible things about Walter.... Sonsky told Faye that Nyad was 'vicious' during the call." ["Lost At Sea," by Lori Gum, p. 70. Downloadable here and available as text here.]
Cover detail of (614), issue 56, Oct 2013, the magazine in which Lori Gum's "Lost At Sea" appeared.

Diana Nyad "helped destroy my husband's life," said Mrs. Poenisch. She and her husband sued Nyad and the International Swimming Hall of Fame for defamation. In 1983, "Nyad issued a full and complete retraction regarding all of the comments she made regarding Walter's 'Swim For Peace....'" [Ibid, p. 73.]

Nyad waited until after her 5th attempt to publicly apologize. "Whatever he did," she said, "he was an incredible swimmer." ["Diana Nyad's Great Regret"] In FIND A WAY, which is essentially the story of her life leading up to her final Cuba-to-Florida endeavor, Nyad never mentions Poenisch. Given her profession of regret, you might think she would concede him at least a brief acknowledgement like the one she allows Susie Maroney, the second to cross. Nor does Nyad ever mention Poenisch in any of her numerous interviews or public appearances. Nyad attempts to erase Walter Poenisch from swimming history, just as she attempts to erase the six women who preceeded her around Manhattan Island.

For more information about Walter Poenisch's historic Cuba-Florida swim and the subsequent lawsuit, please see Swim For Peace. Also see sportswriter Dave Heeren's book The Sporting Stings. He includes an illuminating chapter about Poenisch and Nyad...

"Poenisch's efforts to communicate with the press in Nyad's South Florida bailiwick were as futile as his attempts to find a sponsor. A few articles were written about him for local newspapers, but always the reporters would telephone Nyad and include in their stories some of her derogatory remarks about him...." [p. 153. Complete Nyad-related excerpts here.]

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
—Carl Sagan

Sleeping Octopus

Compiled by Daniel Slosberg

updated 3/1/18
© 2016