Chasing The Swimmer, Part 1: A Boring, Blustery Thing of Beauty

Last September, Diana Nyad brought her two-person show, The Swimmer: The Diana Nyad Story, to New York City. Her three-day run was the near-culmination of one of Diana’s fantasies: to perform on Broadway. As usual, she filled her show with exaggerations and lies.

part 1 – part 2part 3

She performed it at the sixth-largest Off-Broadway theatre

It is both an honor and a thrill to have the largest NY off Broadway Theater, the Minetta Lane, present me this opportunity.  (FB, 18 Sep 2019)

The Minetta Lane Theater is New York’s largest off Broadway theater and I do believe we brought down the house last night…. (FB, 27 Sep 2019)

…and the New York Times didn’t review it…

And, um, it went well…. The New York Times gave us a glowing review. (Nyad at the Ebell)

…and she really wanted to present it on Broadway, not off.

But you can’t have everything. In one way, though, we can. With Audible’s help, we can now imagine ourselves thrilling to The Swimmer right alongside the disastrously underemployed Hillary Clinton and her husband. And we can do it from the comfort of our own homes. Infectious tales for infectious times.

Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and Diana Nyad at The Swimmer: The Diana Nyad Story hosted by Audible at the Minetta Lane Theatre on September 28, 2019, in New York City. (Via Zimbio; Source: Getty Images North America)

Thankfully, the presence of an erstwhile U.S. president and a former U.S. secretary of state didn’t prompt Diana to leave her basket of deplorable deceptions at the stage door. So, unless the program included a disclaimer, Ms. Nyad went to New York last September and spent three days committing fraud.

Disclaimer: The Swimmer: The Diana Nyad Story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Please read on for a look at many of The Swimmer’s deceptions. All of the following quotes come from the Audible version of The Swimmer: The Diana Nyad Story unless otherwise indicated.

Statue of Limitations

They’re erecting a bronze statue of me in Key West. Oh my.

And my joke is that, when I’m 100, probably as bronzed as the statue by then, I’m gonna get a beach chair and sit in the shadow of it. And I’m gonna try to talk people, as they go by, into believing that’s really me. And for a dollar, I’ll take a selfie with everybody. (1:17:45)

They are not erecting a statue of Diana Nyad in Key West.

“They” is the non-profit organization Equal Visibility Everywhere, aka EVE, in conjunction with the city of Key West. EVE does impressive and necessary work fighting for “gender parity in the monuments, symbols, and icons, of the United States.” Unfortunately, EVE fell for the lies of a contemporary serpent and began working with Key West on a Diana Nyad sculpture. They intended to place it on Smathers Beach, where Diana stumbled ashore in September 2013.

We first hear rumblings about a monument in the Key West Citizen just two months after Diana’s crossing. City commissioners bring it up a few days later. But Key West doesn’t get serious about it until April 2017, when the Art In Public Places Advisory Board (AIPP) takes it up.  In September 2018, AIPP mentions it for the last time. A fundraiser for statue-related expenses fell flat.

Last week, I asked Elizabeth Young, Key West’s Public Art Administrator, whether a sculpture was still in the works. In an email, she responded, “Yes we are in the process of celebrating Diana’s heroic and unprecedented swim to KW from Cuba.” But she gave no specifics. Emails to EVE’s president, Dr. Lynnete Long, and to Key West’s city manager, Greg Veliz, have gone unanswered.

I have been unable to find any concrete evidence of progress on a Key West monument to Nyad. Let’s hope that the lack of progress continues. Eventually, marathon swimming’s Lance Armstrong will have her come-to-Oprah moment. If there’s no statue at that point, Key West won’t have to deal with a costly and visible monument to one of the greatest con artists in sports.

Declares EVE’s fundraising page: “Women need to be honored with statues.” Yes, they do. But, oh my, not this one.

“I convinced everyone that I swam all the way from Cuba to Florida, and all I get is this lousy plaque?” (Diana Nyad didn’t really say that, but it looks like she might have thought it. Photo via Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau.)
The Napigator & His Thumbs

My trusted team works on Voyager, the epicenter of the expedition…. The only ones who never leave, never sleep, are Bonnie and Bartlett. (5:05 )

A few hours into the swim, one of Nyad’s observers noted: “Navigator resting. At this time, crew refers to him as ‘the napigator’” (Janet Hinkle, 31 Aug 2013).

And, in an article published before Nyad’s inner circle had a chance to get their stories straight, Bartlett himself said that he “worked on for 24 hours and then took catnaps, keeping an eye on the instruments” (“SW Fla. group helps swimmer reach goal,” 5 Sep 2013).

Bartlett comes bouncing out of the navigation cabin all day long with his thumbs up. We’ve never seen that for one minute on any of the other crossings. (1:05:33)

They didn’t see it on this one either. The observer’s logs, not to mention Nyad herself in her post-swim memoir, Find a Way, don’t support this claim. Nyad and her observers mention Bartlett giving a thumbs-up only once during the entire swim. The magical current that Bartlett supposedly always knew about—and that he ostensibly watched for almost 53 hours straight—was a late addition to the fable.

If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu, it’s because Nyad told the same story back in October.

92 Days of Hot Air

After the failure of her first Cuba-Florida attempt in 1978, Diana decides to take another shot:

1979 we put it together again…. And when we arrived in Key West, we were hoping to wait just a quick week or two before we got the green light whether to go over to Cuba, but no, that year [the wind blew] for 92 days. (41:28)

That didn’t happen. She couldn’t swim in 1979 because Cuba wouldn’t let her, or at least that’s what she writes in her memoir:

Closing in on July [1979], the worst news comes through to us. We are denied entry to Cuba. (Find a Way, p. 90)

So she opts to ride a current from the Bahamas to Florida instead:

Detail from “Diana Makes It On 2nd Try,” Ft. Lauderdale News, 20 Aug 1979.

But that’s not enough for The Swimmer, so Nyad tacks on an extra year of training:

Gonna put the grueling time in again, another full season. 1980 comes, we can’t get into Cuba. None of our visas are approved. (42:32)

Close, but no Cuban cigar. The visa thing already happened. Or it didn’t—I can’t confirm whether or not Diana told the truth about visas in Find a Way.

We can be more confident that, after the 1979 Bahamas endeavor, she retired from swimming and went to work for ABC’s Wide World of Sports. That gig began with the third Ironman Triathlon—January 12, 1980. Nyad documented that milestone a few months ago on her Facebook page:

Once she began working for ABC, she didn’t swim again for sixteen years at most—or thirty, if you take her word for it (not recommended):

That August 2009, turning 60…I screeched over [to] the side of the road. I looked in the rearview mirror. I hadn’t swum a stroke in 30 years. (45:23)

That would mean that she hadn’t swum since 1979, which makes her finish at the 1996 Alcatraz Sharkfest difficult to explain:

After half a century of lies, it’s hard to keep them all straight.

Boxed In

More people have died throughout history from the box stings than from shark attacks. (8:10)

The pain is other worldly. Logic dictates I will die this night. (9:22)

As I reported in my last post, about five people per year die from shark bites. Given that box jellyfish sting thousands of people every year and only a small percentage of those people succumb, “logic dictates” that Diana will survive—especially since she has two doctors on her crew. So the second part of the second statement is false if the first statement is true, which it is.

But Diana usually says something utterly different and utterly untrue about box jelly fatalities, something along the lines of “[m]ost people die instantaneously.” If that were true, which it’s not, then logic would indeed dictate that she should have died. Perhaps a table will help clarify my point:

Diana’s box jelly claims No. of deaths
20 May 2019
K8 East
 “98% of people who have ever been touched by that tentacle have died within one minute” (29:26). thousands
30 May 2019
What’s Next
  “More people have died from the box than from shark bites” (6:40) > 5
Sep 2019
  “More people have died throughout history from the box stings than from shark attacks” (8:10). > 5
7 Oct 2019
Wilshire Ebell
 “The box jellyfish…emits the most potent venom on Earth. Most people die instantaneously.”  thousands

If people were dropping by the thousands from the mere touch of a box jelly tentacle, we’d hear about it from someone other than Diana Nyad. But we don’t. Diana was never in danger.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Not Mt. Everest again!

Swimmers have now called this the Mount Everest of the earth’s oceans. Men, women, strong, fast have been trying to get across since 1950.  (33:08)

No matter how many times Nyad repeats this, she’s still the only swimmer who calls the Florida Straits “the Mount Everest of the earth’s oceans.” Nor does her repetition increase the number of people who have attempted the crossing. That count remains steady at six. And the first of the sextet didn’t jump in the water until 1978. See Everybody’s Doin’ It.

Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules

Diana Nyad never officially declared any rules for any of her swims. She believed that, for the Cuba-Florida crossing, she could make up the rules as she went along. But she wants her audiences to think that she diligently followed some sort of rigid guidelines. So she talks a lot about rules, especially for someone who doesn’t follow any:

[Stoll] In life or death situations which you are in right now, you are allowed on the boat for emergency treatment. (9:52)

[Stoll] Docs, pay attention. You can reach out to treat her, but you may not support her in any way. She needs to either tread water without holding her up, or she needs to swim on her own. You got it? (10:07)

[Nyad] Okay, Bonnie. We’re a staged swim now. So be it. We got to get back to the exact GPS points where you guys pulled me out. (11:40)

[Stoll] Less than an hour to go, I’m ferried into shore. I need to make sure nobody touches her before she is completely out of the water. (1:13:15)

All of the rules she alludes to above exist in written form for other swims but not for her Cuba-Florida attempts.

To reinforce the illusion that she followed a set of specific guidelines, Steven Munatones, her chief supporter and enabler in the marathon swimming community, created (and backdated to 2010) a pretend organization, FOWSA—the Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association. FOWSA would…

…propose and adjudicate the rules and conditions under which Diana Nyad attempted her crossings of the Florida Straits and to authenticate the rules as written were followed. (Openwaterpedia, showing additions made on 2 Feb 2018)

Nyad and Munatones have often said that they would publish those rules. To this day, they have not.

You can’t have a legitimate sporting event without rules. Diana’s biggest lie, then, is that she completed a valid, legitimate swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.

A Boring, Blustery Thing of Beauty

When I was younger, I was a boring, blustery ego. (40:37)

Diana implies that age has made her less of a self-centered blowhard. Let’s see how that’s working out. As Diana’s fifth and final attempt begins, Bonnie comments:

Before I jump into my boat, I take a minute to watch her swim away. It truly is a thing of beauty the way she glides. (1:04:21)

Remember: Diana Nyad wrote The Swimmer. So she also wrote this:

[Stoll] Who am I kidding? Even deadly box jellyfish stings won’t get her to quit. Nothing ever gets her to quit. (12:00)

At the La Tuque 24-hour Relay in Quebec, Diana quit two years in a row. In 1973, she teamed with Jon Erikson. They had to abandon the race after Nyad gave up. When she quit again in 1974, her new teammate, Argentina’s Marcello Guiscardo, finished the race by himself. In 1976, Nyad went to Britain intending to become the first woman to complete an English Channel double. But she quit three times and never got across once. She quit in her first four attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.

In other words, Diana Nyad quits plenty.

But don’t take it from me, take it from Doc Counsilman. He swam the English Channel at age 58 after coaching Mark Spitz to all those Olympic gold medals. Here’s what he said about Diana Nyad:

[Diana Nyad is] a very mediocre swimmer with a very good publicist. Most of her swims have been failures. For instance, she has attempted to swim the [English] Channel three times and has never finished. (Sports Illustrated, 24 Sep 1979)

Or take it from John Kinsella, Olympic medalist, world record holder, and 4-time World Professional Marathon Swimming champion:

Diana Nyad is such a joke to anyone who knows anything about marathons. (Chicago Tribune, 27 Aug 1978)

In part 2, we’ll look at…

  • Why Diana lied about John Bartlett’s naps.
  • Why she felt it necessary—in such a public and universally accessible setting as an Off-Broadway stage show and the recording of that show—to denigrate Chloë McCardel and her crew one more time.
  • The implication in The Swimmer that, from the moment Nyad left Havana, she knew exactly where she would walk ashore in Florida.

…and more.

Welcome-home parade for Gertrude Ederle after she became the first woman to swim the English Channel. New York City, 1926.C.f. Diana Nyad: “…if I get to the Florida coast, that will be one of the most historic moments in sports…. It is certainly going to be bigger than Gertrude Ederle finishing the English Channel….” (Helen Dudar, “Diana Nyad’s Magnificent Obsession,” Village Voice, 26 June 1978. More here.)




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