Afterword: Chloë McCardel
For Diana Nyad, marathon swimming is a zero-sum game. The sport has room for only one great swimmer, the swimmer: Diana Nyad. So, when she talks about other swimmers—especially other female marathon swimmers—she often denigrates them while minimizing or ignoring their accomplishments. How else can Nyad elevate her achievements above those of so many far better athletes?
In her Off-Broadway show, The Swimmer, Nyad first belittles Judith de Nijs (see part 1). Later, she goes after the great Australian marathoner, Chloë McCardel. One of only five people in history to have completed an English Channel triple, McCardel has crossed the EC a total of 44 times, more than anyone in history.
Diana Nyad, who once claimed to hold “all the major records on planet Earth, out in the open sea,” attempted the English Channel three times in 1976 but couldn’t get across once. She gave up and never returned.
McCardel tried the Cuba-Florida swim in June of 2013, just a few months before Nyad’s endeavor. In The Swimmer, Nyad says she resents anyone else attempting the crossing before she does, all but declaring the Florida Straits hers alone. “Diana, you do not own this ocean,” says Stoll.
Yeah, well, it seems like I took ownership of it over all these long-suffering attempts.
Nyad goes on to describe the great distress she feels while watching McCardel’s attempt. “You honestly want the others to fail,” Nyad says. When it becomes clear that Chloë’s in trouble, Nyad’s elated. Eventually, she learns that box jellyfish stings have forced McCardel to leave the water. Nyad should be able to empathize. Instead, all she can drum up is a sarcastic, “well, as long as she’s alright. My turn.”
Chloë, on the other hand, always speaks of Nyad with genuine respect and admiration—far more than Nyad deserves.
I want to leave you with the transcript of the McCardel section of The Swimmer because it reveals so much about Nyad. Bear in mind that most of the thoughts, words, and actions Nyad ascribes to others are most likely her own. For instance, she claims that, when those jellyfish stings forced McCardel to abandon her swim, John Bartlett “jumped for joy.” I didn’t know Bartlett personally, but I’ve heard and read enough about him to know that he would not have celebrated McCardel’s misery.
Diana Nyad is another story.
[Begins at 57:49]
Stoll: Diana, you do not own this ocean
Nyad: Yeah, well, it seems like I took ownership of it over all these long-suffering attempts. Now I’m gonna sit around and watch this other swimmer for days make a go of it?
Stoll: We can’t sleep. We play Scrabble and cards ’til three in the morning. She paces to four. Then, at dawn, the whole team meets at swim Central.
Nyad: We’re tuned into Chloë’s website. Her boat sends out a ping every 20 minutes.
Stoll: She’s making pretty good headway north.
Nyad: Should I want to be the first? All my life I wanted to be the first. And now I gotta get some elegance and congratulate this Chloë? I don’t feel very elegant right now. And I got to talk my own team into still believing even though we’re not going to be first anymore. Somebody talk me off this cliff!
Stoll: Wait, wait, something’s going on here.
Nyad: It’s the 11th hour. Wait a second, wait a second. Chloë’s ping is traveling southeast.
Stoll: She’s heading back towards Cuba.
Nyad: Bartlett’s going out of his mind. No, every expedition, even the space races, wished safety for the others. But you honestly want the others to fail. Being first is the holy grail Bartlett’s jumping for joy. He says they’re swirling in an eddy and these people don’t even know what eddies are.
Stoll: Only an hour after the eddy pulls them off course, we hear a CNN report. Chloë has also been stung by the box. She’s breathing and she’s on deck. They’re motoring to get her to a hospital in Havana.
Nyad: Well, as long as she’s alright. My turn….