New Lies, Old Lies, And Movie News From Nyad’s “How She Does It” Interview

A two-month-old interview presents Diana Nyad just before she began trying to undo her lies. In fact, she takes some of her standard fabrications and makes them even more outrageous.

Investor Karen Finerman interviewed Diana in June for the How She Does It podcast. The episode went up Sunday. Here are the highlights, including some scoops about the movie.

Nyad Early Look

Jellies Make A Scene

Even after those box jellyfish — and I’m telling you, that was a scene right out of a movie that you’re about to see in the fall. I could have; I should have died that night with what was going on with the triage, with the emergency doctors. (25:26)

Diana doesn’t make much sense there at the end. However, one thing’s certain: We can look forward to many screams from Annette Bening.

Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me The Rights To These Songs

I want to tell you something. In the movie, you’re gonna hear Janis Joplin in the movie singing, ‘Come on, come on.’ I mean and you’re gonna hear Neil Young, he’s in there too. (38:02)

Nooooooooooo — this can’t be happening! Diana Nyad should not be allowed within 90 nautical miles of those songs, especially after all the lies she’s told about using them., the blessed transcription service that allows me to “listen” to Nyad without actually listening to her, transcribed the lyric as “Coma, coma,” which feels emotionally if not literally accurate.

Origin Stories

Marathon Swimming

Finerman asks Nyad if she began distance swimming while at college. Nyad answers:

It really was when I moved to New York City to go to graduate school. I went to NYU…and I was just swimming in the Columbia University pool one day and a graduate student friend of mine said, “Nyad, I see that beautiful, powerful stroke of yours…” (4:06)

Not a word of that is true. Nyad swam her first open water race in 1970, during her first or second undergrad year at Lake Forest College in Illinois. Nyad graduated in ’73 and began at NYU that fall. This archived page shows Nyad lettering at Lake Forest in ’69-’70 and ’70–’71.

So, it really wasn’t until after college that I started the marathon swimming. (5:00)

Still not true. See this 1970 letter from Buck Dawson, founding director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, to swim promoter Joe Grossman.

In her first memoir, Other Shores, Nyad details a version that’s closer to the truth:

Midway through that first term at Lake Forest, Buck Dawson, an old friend, called with a tempting prospect of trying the marathon swimming circuit. . . .

Toward the end of the 1970 school year, I put in some distance in the Lake Forest pool. (p. 20–21)

Competitive Swimming

And at age nine, I was already a little competitive swimmer. (10:14)

In other interviews and presentations, Nyad gives ages from 7 to 12. She should probably choose one and stick with it.

Ain’t No Mountain…

[The Cuba swim] is, for a number of swimmers…the Mount Everest. It’s the most difficult swim on the planet. (13:26)

No one but Nyad calls the Cuba crossing the “Mount Everest” of swims. And it’s not the most difficult swim on the planet, though Diana would like you to think it is. How can anyone objectively pick the most difficult swim on on the planet? They can’t.

Do I Hear 40?

And so I left my beautiful Cuba swim behind and at that point, [from] 1980, I didn’t swim for 35 years. And so I took it back up at the age of 60. (14:00)

If she hadn’t swum for 35 years, she’d have been out of the water from age 25 to 60. That would explain why, at 28, she failed her first Cuba–Florida attempt. However, it doesn’t explain why she told one interviewer that year, “I was in the best shape of anybody on the face of this Earth.”

Nyad’s longest previously claimed dry spell — 30 years — isn’t true either.

The Song Remains Almost The Same

So, I’d be out there singing especially at night, late at night, Neil Young…. So I would choose, let’s say, “The Needle And The Damage Done.” I would choose that song and I’d sing it 1000 times, the whole song from the first note just the way Neil Young recorded it…. When I get to 1000 ‘Damage Dones,’ I’ve gone more than 10 hours. (23:16)

That’s for sure: All of Young’s versions run two minutes or longer, so she’d have swum 33 hours and 20 minutes minimum. (She clumsily tries to undo this lie in a later interview by saying she forgets the timing. I address this in the previous post.)

What’s In A Name?/I’m Greek!/Aptonyms

FINERMAN: “And you were the one who told me that the word ‘Nyad’ actually means champion swimmer…” (10:59)

NYAD: The day I turned five, on my fifth birthday. He [Aris Nyad] called me into the den. He had the big Webster’s version of the dictionary open. . . . And the second more modern definition of Nyad is, “girl or woman, champion swimmer.” (11:20)

This never happened. No dictionary available at that time included that definition.

But I always did walk around saying, “Yep, I’m Greek. My father is Greek. And he tells me that my name means champion swimmer.” So, Karen, I’m in all those eponym books where people…Dr. Brain becomes the neurosurgeon. I have lived out the meaning of my name. (12:21)

Where to start? Aris Nyad was not her biological father, and Diana’s not Greek. She never clears this up.

And it’s “aptronym” or “aptonym,” not “eponym.” I know of only one book of aptonyms. In it, the author mentions Nyad in his introduction only to explain why “Nyad” is not apt for inclusion in the body of his book.

A Real Head-Turner

And I’m turning my head 53 times a minute for 53 hours. (31:09)

Nyad still hasn’t thought this through, so let me help. The number she gives is her approximate stroke count: 53 strokes per minute. No swimmer breathes more than every other arm stroke, so Nyad would be breathing around 26 times per minute.

Triumph of the Krill

 And this movie, yes, it’s about the Triumph of the Will. (31:38)

Nyad has used that phrase before. Her advisers might want to counsel her to stop.


 There Goes EverWalk’s Krispy Kreme Sponsorship

The worst investment I ever made was the stock of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. A friend called me and said, “I’m standing in this place with glazed doughnuts coming off a conveyor belt. You’ve got to invest in this right away. I think the IPO’s coming.” So, I invested in it. It was a horrible investment. And I should have known better because none of us should be eating or investing in doughnuts. (39:50)

Remember when George HW Bush got in trouble for disparaging broccoli? Diana should be more careful.

The Empress Of Agony

Open-water swimming can bring emotional and physical pleasure. It can lead to hours of bliss. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to Diana. As far as she’s concerned, the more trauma she experiences (and describes), the more epic she’ll seem. From suffering flows adulation.

Here are some snippets from The Empress of Agony’s descriptions of her endeavors:

  • “long, arduous sagas of pain.” (16:53)
  • “long-term suffering.” (21:09)
  • “[Box Jellies] paralyze your central nervous system, you feel your spinal cord is in paralysis, it’s a perfect killing machine. [It has] the most potent venom on all planet Earth. There’s no snake that can take you down with his venom as quickly as the little one-inch square cube of the box jellyfish.” (20:29)

Sounds like fun! Where do I sign up?

Why Do Other Athletes Keep Their Distance?

And I think honestly, Karen, most of the people who have responded to this story — whether I’m out speaking or reading my book — [who] are seeing the documentary, and now they will see the feature film. Most of them are not swimmers, most of them are not athletes. (26:13)

Why does no one ever ask, “Why not?” Most marathon swimmers love to follow and support other swimmers. Legitimate ones, anyway.

Role Model

I grew up with a con artist father. Nyad had his strong suits. He was a wonderful storyteller. He was a bon vivant. Women loved to dance with him. Men loved to play cards with him. And he was a lot of fun.

And on the other hand, he was a thief. He was a liar. And we couldn’t trust him at home. Nothing he said was the truth. (6:35)

Sound familiar?

A World-Class Team

And the team — Bonnie and the team —  had all their expertise, world class, from the sharks to the jellyfish to the navigation. (17:08)

But not to the observers or to anyone who had a clue about the sport of marathon swimming. Funny thing, that.

Above: My source for donuts during high school. If Donut Queen hadn’t been razed, I’d recommend the cinnamon twists and honey buns. Image via Pomona Progress-Bulletin, Dec 30, 1971.



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