No-Fear Fabricator Defies Sharks, Bermuda Triangle, and The Truth

Detail from Minneapolis Star, 19 May 1977.

Last night, a journalist researching Diana Nyad asked me if Nyad ever claimed to have completed an English Channel crossing. I couldn’t remember her saying so, but I recalled her walking right up to the edge.

In a 1977 Minneapolis Star article, Nyad begins a discourse on hallucinations with, “Last summer, when I was swimming the English Channel.” She doesn’t mention that she made three unsuccessful attempts “last summer” and didn’t plan on returning.

Earlier in the article, the author, Rob Tanenbaum, writes about “the perilous English Channel, which [Nyad] has done twice.”

Both statements leave escape hatches. Nyad doesn’t say she finished. Though Tanenbaum does — assuming “done” means she swam “shore to shore” in “squeaky clean, ethical fashion” — Nyad could claim he misquoted her.

The article contains plenty of other lies, including

  • she was still working on her PhD at NYU.
  • she was an Olympic-caliber swimmer.
  • she was “rated the top marathon swimmer in the world.”

But what demonstrates Nyad’s greatness as a con artist — along with her more recent success convincing the press, public, and a handful of marathon swimmers that she swam from Cuba to Florida under her own power — are the first three words of the article’s title: “No-fear swimmer.”

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By the rules that Diana Nyad and her own team set forth, we can declare her 2013 Cuba-Florida crossing invalid.

The missing manual. Jellyfish courtesy of Lynn Kubasek.

“I honored the rules,” Nyad told David Adams of Reuters a week after she completed her Cuba-Florida crossing (“Questions Linger….”).

But what rules did she honor?

“Trust me,” she said in a Facebook post, “this dream [is] too important to me to have any slight thing outside the fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport” (screenshot here and below).

We still have no idea what Nyad was talking about.
Continue reading “Disqualified!”

Diana’s GREAT Surprise, part 2: The Relinquisher

Nyad says that she “relinquished my position as screenwriter of my life story.” Of her Manhattan swim, she once said, “I hereby relinquish my title as the first woman.” But you can’t relinquish something you never had.

I was so diverted by Nyad’s cinematic machinations in the last post that I missed something important. When Diana finally tells us that she’s not writing the screenplay for Nyad: The Motion Picture, she declares:

I relinquished my position as screenwriter of my life story. (Sung, “Diana Nyad…” )

When she got caught in her Manhattan lie back in 2011, she used the same verb:

I hereby relinquish my title as the first woman. (Nyad via the Wayback Machine)

Continue reading “Diana’s GREAT Surprise, part 2: The Relinquisher”

Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 2

In her Holocaust survivor’s tale, Diana Nyad projects onto a fictional child the story of her own worst year. The account, then, is not a complete fabrication; it’s a psychologically true story reflected in a distorted mirror.

part 1 | part 2

When Diana Nyad tells stories about traumatized children, those children are always three-year-old girls:

This woman told me a story that I’ve heard many times before. Her father began molesting her when she was 3. (NY Times, 11 Nov 2017)

It’s harrowing to hear these tales of a girl who was three years old molested by her father then her grandfather. (Facebook Live, 17 Nov 2017)

She became the little concubine of the SS officers. Oral sex, anal sex, intercourse. At age three, she was forced to perform these heinous acts many times a day. (Find a Way, 135)

Never two, never four or five or six—the little girl is always three. That’s not a coincidence.
Continue reading “Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 2”

Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 1

Diana Nyad often tells the story of meeting a Holocaust survivor who underwent horrifying sexual abuse during World War II. Nyad fabricated the whole thing.

part 1 | part 2

NOTE: In the following post, I am not questioning whether or not sexual abuse occurred during the Holocaust. It did, and it was probably much worse than anyone could ever imagine. I am, however, questioning the facts of a survivor story Diana Nyad invented and now exploits for her own benefit. 

The following paragraph summarizes Nyad’s story. It includes details common to most or all of the seven versions I’m familiar with:

At dinner after one of her talks, Nyad meets an elderly woman (never named) who is originally from Krakow, Poland. Nyad identifies the woman as a survivor because she has numbers tattooed on her arm. The woman tells Nyad her story: When she was three years old, the Gestapo came to her home in Krakow and killed her father. They forced her, her mother, and her six-year-old sister onto a train to Dachau. Upon arrival, they were separated. The mother and sister went to the right, the three-year-old went to the left and never saw her family again. The Nazis then sent her to serve as a sex slave to the camp’s SS officers. At the war’s end, a French family adopts the little girl. She goes on to live a life seemingly unaffected by her trauma.

(This spreadsheet provides links to all seven versions and highlights differences between them.)

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After I began to doubt Nyad’s story, I started emailing people who might know if it could be true. Dr. Sybille Steinbacher, director of the Fritz Bauer Institute on the History and Effects of the Holocaust, forwarded my message to Dr. Barbara Distel, former director of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Dr. Distel’s response contains everything you need to know about Nyad’s tale. By permission of Dr. Distel, here are the pertinent parts (lightly edited for readability):

1. Dachau was a concentration camp for men only, there were never families or mothers with children. Jewish families in Poland were sent to Ghettos and from there to the death camps, or directly to the death camps in Poland, never to Germany. The description [Nyad gives] refers to Auschwitz. The way she tells it is completely fictional. [my emphasis]
During the last years (1943-1945), a large number of subsidiary camps were established where Dachau prisoners worked mostly for the German armament industry. There were some subsidiary camps and work detachments where also women prisoners worked. Shortly before the liberation on April 29, 1945, there were about 67,000 inmates in Dachau and its subsidiary camps, 4,600 of them were women (4,000 Jewish women). There were a number of babies who had been born shortly before the liberation.
2. There were no three-year-old children in Dachau. [Unlike] Buchenwald concentration camp, there was no children’s barrack in Dachau. 

I have never heard of sexual abuse of children in Dachau concentration camp.

(Complete email exchange here.)

Continue reading “Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 1”

“Diana Nyad Self Made Story” repost

What follows is a lightly edited version of a recent Facebook post. That version did not meet the high visual standards the Annex demands (i.e., it looked really ugly), hence its reappearance here.

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“Meet Diana Nyad: Epic Adventurer Who Refuses To Accept Defeat” (Self Made, 22 Oct 2018)

Have I mentioned that Diana Nyad occasionally stretches the truth? She gave it a real workout in this recent interview with Nely Galán. Below the video, you will find an accounting of Nyad’s Self Made fictions.

Continue reading ““Diana Nyad Self Made Story” repost”

Early Manhattan Women Swimmers on Film

As part of the festivities surrounding the 5th anniversary of Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida crossing, this open letter to the most reputable historians revisits one of Nyad’s biggest lies.

15 September 2018

Dear Reputable Historians,

You’ll recall that, back in 2011, CNN caught Diana Nyad lying about being the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island. In response, Ms. Nyad posted (then deleted) a disingenuous non-mea-culpa. You can still find it here.

An excerpt:

The history is unclear. The dissemination of accurate information has not followed an empirical path. I am waiting for the most reputable historians of the sport to dig further and publish their research as to their collective best versions as to who did in fact circle Manhattan, when and how.

Screen grab from “Swim around Manhattan–outtakes” (via MIRC) showing Anne Priller Benoit joking with an unidentified competitor before the start of the 1930 race around Manhattan. Benoit finished 5th overall and 1st among the women.

I write to you, most reputable historians, in the hope that you’ll grab your shovels and resume digging.

Continue reading “Early Manhattan Women Swimmers on Film”

NYAD’S LIES, PART 3: An Expert Planter of Beliefs—Diana Nyad, Con Artist

Nyad gets away with telling and selling lies because she’s a con woman—such a good one, in fact, that she duped Michael Shermer, the founder of The Skeptics Society. In this last of three posts about Diana’s lies, we’ll look at how she gets away with telling so many of them.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

In 2015, the founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer, reviewed Diana Nyad’s memoir, Find A Way, for the Wall St. Journal (see “Just Keep Swimming; full text here). Plenty of folks had questioned Nyad’s honesty by that time. But Shermer, a man who makes his living as a skeptic, did not betray a drop of doubt. He accepted Find A Way as gospel, going so far as to crown Diana Nyad  “the greatest long-distance swimmer in the history of the sport….”¹ 

According to the Skeptics Society’s website, part of the organization’s purpose is to investigate “the paranormal, fringe science, pseudoscience, and extraordinary claims of all kinds…” (my italics). How could a skeptic’s skeptic drift so far astray ? Two reasons:

Continue reading “NYAD’S LIES, PART 3: An Expert Planter of Beliefs—Diana Nyad, Con Artist”

NYAD’S LIES, PART 1: From Bimini to the Big Apple — the Lies in Find a Way

“We are believers,” Diana Nyad declares on the first page of Find A Way. This post is the first in a three-part series about what Diana Nyad wants us to believe, why she wants us to believe it, and how she keeps us believing despite nearly half a century of deception.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

[NOTE: For a more extensive rummage through the lies in Diana Nyad’s memoir, please see “Unreliable Natator: Omissions, Exaggerations, and Lies in Diana Nyad’s Find a Way.”]

We know that Diana Nyad lies. She lies frequently, brazenly, and — in all likelihood — compulsively. But why?

She lies because she can’t live without adoration. To receive that adoration, Nyad must be the best — must be “epic” — at everything she does. She must swim epically, play squash epically, even epically wake up in the morning. But she can’t be epic at everything — no one can — so she must act and write and talk as if she is.

Diana Nyad’s favorite word. With Marcia Cross at LiveTalksLA

Why does she require so much adoration? Maria Konnikova, in her 2011 article Less Than Artful Choices: Narcissistic Personality Disorder According to Donald Trump, compares utterances of not-yet-president Donald Trump to the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).* It turns out that you can plug in “Nyad” wherever you see “Trump” and, voilá, the story still works. Konnikova’s piece presents the best explanation I’ve found for Nyad’s excessive need to be adored: Diana Nyad is a narcissist’s narcissist, an apex egoist in the Trumpian style.

*As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

Continue reading “NYAD’S LIES, PART 1: From Bimini to the Big Apple — the Lies in Find a Way”

FIND A PATHOLOGY: Diana Nyad’s Next Book?

Last week, Diana Nyad appeared on Capital Public Radio’s “Insight with Beth Ruyak.” The most fascinating bit of news therein:

I’m probably going to be writing a book this next year about all these myriad syndromes…that come about.

What does she mean by “all these myriad syndromes”? All I can tell you is that, right now, Diana has pathologies (myriad syndromes?) on her mind.

Continue reading “FIND A PATHOLOGY: Diana Nyad’s Next Book?”