Diana Nyad, Extraordinary Human

In a talk for the Australian organization Business Chicks, Diana Nyad sunk to new lows. Here’s a quick fact check of Nyad’s most recent fiesta of falsehoods.

All quotes from Extraordinary Humans: Diana Nyad unless otherwise noted.

Crack Open a Cool One — It’s Virus Time!

I don’t want to look back constantly and cast back, “Oh, I did that, and wasn’t that great.”

So said Diana Nyad regarding her Cuba-Florida triumph. On the other hand,

There was so much depth to it, so much inspiration to it, that I wanted, during this COVID virus time, to look back at my own story.

Diana spent about an hour looking back. She mostly stuck to her stump speech but threw in a few embellishments, varied a few themes, and added a finale that left me trembling in my surf booties.

She also added some appalling bits to her preamble. We’ll get to that later.

“I don’t think back so much on a moment of triumph,” she says, “you know, on a moment of ego,”  after which she begins looking back at her moment of triumph and ego. But first, there’s a brief video, that same stew of fallacies that opened her program in October. Then we’re off:

I don’t look at that footage and think, “I did that, I succeeded. I set the world record.”

That’s good because she didn’t—not that she ever specified what that world record was supposed to be.

I’ll Have The Usual

Nyad repeated a number of claims that I’ve addressed in previous posts:

“I’m never allowed to touch the boat.” Nyad touches the boat during her 2012 Cuba-Florida attempt.
  • “I’m never allowed to touch the boat.”
  • “I haven’t swum a stroke in 30 years….”
  • “I’m in a state of what they call severe sensory deprivation.”
  • “Havana, it’s just across the horizon here. It’s so close that you, you little champion swimmer you, you could almost swim there.”
  • “John Bartlett, the navigator, was coming out of the navigation cabin with his thumbs up all day.”

But when they wouldn’t make it, I would do a little happy dance.

In other words, her usual celebration when others failed in their Cuba-Florida attempts.

And frankly, I was a better swimmer at 60 and 61 then I was at 28.

Something we’d all love to believe but know to be nonsense.

It wasn’t too long after that I was a graduate student in New York City that I was swimming in a local pool at NYU and a colleague of mine stopped me and said, “You know, I see you you’ve got this, this beautiful streamlined stroke.”

The colleague goes on to tell Nyad about pro marathon swimming. But Nyad swam her first pro race in 1970 and didn’t enter grad school until 1973.

I commend anybody who swam across the Bay of Naples in Italy as we did, but for me, it was personal. It was always, always about Cuba.

Nyad begins by flattering with faint praise, then moves on to Cuba—which, no, it was not always about.

My team got back up, that team, 44 people, nobody ever paid a dime.

Over the years, Nyad has returned to the no-one-got-a-dime theme over and over. When she repeats something that often, it means that she’s lying.  I’ve begun looking at this and will write about it in an upcoming post. For now, I’ll say this: Given Nyad’s insistence that she hasn’t paid people, we can assume that she has (see, for example, Darlene Meadows).

A Couple Of Set Pieces That Show How Nyad Has Abandoned Any Pretense Of Truth

Lake Ontario / Judith de Nijs

For this go-round, Nyad combined her first pro race —Lake Ontario, 1970 — with her solo Lake Ontario swim of 1974. As Nyad tells it, Judith de Nijs, the great Dutch marathoner, is still a “mammoth imposing figure” with “those thunderous thighs of hers” that make the beach tremble. Nyad, as usual, seems oblivious to the offensiveness of her words.

Nyad also says that de Nijs swam butterfly in the ’68 Olympics. Like Nyad, however, de Nijs never swam in the Olympics. But it makes Nyad look better if she’s competing against former Olympians.

Nyad usually includes the race’s results, but here she omits them in favor of declaring the event “a long suffering, cold 18 hours and 20 minutes….” In fact, Nyad finished the race in just under 4½ hours. It was Nyad’s solo crossing four years later that took almost 18 hours and change.

Timeline of 1978-1980 Cuba-Florida attempts

On Tuesday, Nyad said it’s this:

1978 — failed attempt
1979 — “The wind came out of the east for ninety-one consecutive days…. We missed the whole season.”
1980 — “You give it up, you go home, and you train for another year, another grueling year…. We come back 1980 Now we can’t get visas.”

In fact, it was this:

1978 — failed attempt
1979 — can’t get visas so she swims from the Bahamas to Florida instead. Nothing to do with winds.
1980 — retires from swimming, goes to work for Wide World of Sports.

But she has told this lie before. What’s new here: Nyad says John Bartlett introduced her team to “Sahara dust,” particles of sand carried all the way to Florida by those swim-canceling winds. This would have had to happen sometime between 1979 and 1980.

That story has two problems: First, Nyad doesn’t meet Bartlett until 2010, at least according to her account in Find a Way (p. 143); and, second, in Nyad’s book, Vanessa Linsley made the Sahara dust introductions, not Bartlett (p. 153).

And I wasn’t the only swimmer. Since 1950. Some of the best swimmers in the world had tried to make that crossing—Havana to Key West.

Usually, she says something like “all of the great swimmers,” not just “some” of them,  so this is a step in the right direction.

But she has never, as far as I know, specified the swim’s endpoint. This highlights something else that I’ll examine in an upcoming post. Suffice it to say that I  believe Nyad knew all along that she would finish in Key West, and at Smathers Beach in particular. For her to guarantee that, she had to make special arrangements.

Sign at Smathers Beach on day Nyad finished her crossing. Photo by Nancy Klingener of WLRN.
Variations On A Few Well-Known Themes

What would a Nyad program be without box jellies?

 98% of people who have ever been stung by one of those tentacles, and it’s a beautiful little animal.

“A beautiful little animal.” Via Huffington Post.

What just happened? In every other program, Nyad has said that the 98% (or 90% or 95% or 99%) of people would have died. So why did she leave us hanging this time?

One possibility: She meant to include the whole box jelly lie but forgot the second part. Another option: She intended to cut the entire lie, but out of habit repeated the first part and then caught herself.

Alleged Abuse

Age 14, there was a big meet in my hometown. I hadn’t lost the hundred-meter backstroke for maybe a couple of years at this point…. This day between the prelims and the finals, I went over to coach’s house for a nap….

I’ve included only the first part of her abuse tale here. I cannot emphasize enough that not a single word of Nyad’s allegations can be true given the details she provides. Maybe something happened between her and Nelson. But whatever it was can’t have occurred the way Nyad describes it.

Genuine Abuse

Nyad often uses the tragedies of others to further her own aims. Until her Business Chicks presentation, the most appalling example involved neighbors of hers whose son had been killed (see “Neighborly Thoughtfulness at Sea”). But she outdid herself this time, singling out a member of the virtual audience whose brother and sister-in-law had, according to Nyad, recently been murdered. Nyad knows this person personally and names her multiple times. Nyad talks about this woman’s background, then asks the audience for “just a moment” to honor her. “We’re thinking of you, my friend.”

Immediately thereafter, Nyad launches into a faux-heartfelt tale about Adrianne Haslet. Haslet lost part of her leg in the Boston Marathon Bombing, so is perfect fodder for Nyad. Haslet has an incredible, inspiring story, which serves here, unfortunately, solely as more grist for Nyad’s mill of self-aggrandizement.

Oceans Commit

Oceans Commit has the potential for far-reaching consequences vis-a-vis public acceptance of marathon swimming’s greatest con artist. According to Nyad, Everwalk, her first Livestrong-like foray into using  philanthropic organizations as cement in which to bury one’s offenses,

is now expanding its vision to something called Oceans Commit.

As per its website, Oceans Commit is “A Series of Events to Inspire YOU…to take action toward restoring our once-pristine oceans to their glory.”

Note that the Livestrong strategy is already working. At least one marathon swimming organization — WOWSA — and its leader, Steven Munatones, have swallowed Oceans Commit whole. In a catalog of future WOWSA Live interviewees, Munatones lists the greatest fraudster in the history of marathon swimming as “Oceans Commit Visionary Diana Nyad.”

Thank goodness we can now forget about her decades of deceit and focus on Nyad’s new life as Savior of the Seas. (Insert sarcasm emoji here.)

Updated for readability on 7 June 2020.


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