Nyad names the three best distance swimmers on the planet. You’ll have to guess the other two.

Forget the World Cup, the Mueller investigation, global warming, and right-wing extremism. The wait is over: Diana Nyad has crowned the top three distance swimmers in the world.

Last August, the Platypus Institute’s NeuronFire podcast aired an interview with Diana Nyad. Regular visitors to the Annex will recognize most of the tales that Nyad tells host David Bach, M.D. — the lethality of box jellyfish, for instance, and the hordes of swimmers lined up to swim “the Mount Everest of Earth’s Oceans.” But Nyad came up with some new material for the occasion. Of that material, one gem, one precious opal of nonsense, shines out above the rest: Nyad names the three greatest marathon swimmers on earth. After doing so, she attacks the two who aren’t her.

“The two greatest distance swimmers on the planet today,” she tells Dr. Bach, “along with me, are two Australian women.” She continues:

There happen to be three women at the top rung of the ladder of our sport. Penny Palfrey, awesome swimmer, has conquered most of the great oceans of the planet. Younger than her, Chloë McCardel, strong and fast. I bow down in front of the two of them. Once they got half way, a quarter of the way, stung by the box jellyfish, [they] turned back….

They stated before that swim that this was their dream, that this was the Mount Everest of the earth’s oceans. More than any other swim in the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, down under Australia, this was the one they wanted. They never came back….

“I bow down in front of the two of them” would just be unctuous and disturbing if it weren’t a setup for making Palfrey and McCardel into punching bags. Not to mention, first, that Nyad is nowhere close to the top rung of the ladder of marathon swimming, public opinion notwithstanding; and, second, that the evidence points towards her having cheated on her Cuba to Florida swim.

Nyad knows all of this, which is why she needs to rip into her betters.

There is absolutely no comparison between Diana Nyad and the two Australians. McCardel has swum the English Channel 24 times, including two doubles and a triple. [Update, 26 Dec 1922: McCardel has completed 44 crossings, more than anyone in history.] Nyad couldn’t get across once.

Penny Palfrey’s accomplishments also dwarf Nyad’s. Palfrey has completed the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (English Channel, Catalina Channel, and the swim around Manhattan) and too many other marathon swims to name here.

Many other people stand on rungs far above Ms. Nyad. I was going to list a few of them, starting with Alison Streeter and Sarah Thomas, but how about a picture of Nyad hanging onto a rope instead:

Nyad holds a rope—probably attached to a drogue—during one of her 2011 Cuba-Florida attempts. To any marathon swimmer other than Diana Nyad, this transgression of the rules of marathon swimming would have ended the attempt as definitively as committing a felony ends your freedom—if you’re caught. (Screenshot from the documentary The Other Shore.)

Nyad brings up Palfrey and McCardel not because she believes they’re “the two greatest distance swimmers on the planet, along with me,” but because naming them covers her attacks with a facade of nobility. Nyad has no intention of crediting other swimmers. All honors must accrue to Nyad alone.

Never to Denigrate

For someone who claims never to denigrate, Nyad spends a lot of time denigrating. In her first words of the interview, Nyad belittles previous interviewers while buttering up Dr. Bach:

I do a lot of interviews, frankly, and they can get to be rather clichéd after a while. And I know your fervent mind is going to lead us down some intriguing paths. So at long last, I’m excited to do an interview rather than kind of wading through it.

(This is not Nyad’s first interviewer-bashing rodeo. Here she goes after one particular questioner and then praises the current interviewer, her friend Marcia Cross. Ms. Cross, as of the date of the interview, still owned part of Nyad’s house, so laying it on thick was probably a prudent move.)

Later, Nyad denigrates people who watch too much TV:

I don’t sit in front of the television for four hours—again, not to denigrate people who do—everybody has their own lives.

Finally, there are those other pesky swimmers to deal with:

Well, never to denigrate any of the great swimmers—male, female, young, strong—who have tried this what we call the Mount Everest of the earth’s oceans.

She goes on to denigrate them with gusto.

Tour de Hubris

I wonder if the increasing number of personal attacks indicates that Nyad is having more trouble keeping the real Diana Nyad under wraps. Another indication of this: at least two Freudian slips, little gifts from Nyad’s unconscious. The first arrived while she attempted to explain why she succeeded that final time:

I made it the 5th time, David, because I think if you have the hubris and you have the willingness, you have the will to go again and again and again, you deserve to eventually have the good luck of those conditions that rarely come together at one time come together for you.

Hubris: “extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance.” In other words, an island of truth in Nyad’s sea of deception.

Then, as part of a no-stone-unturned monologue wherein she declares, among other things, that she would never deign to go 15 hours and 58 seconds in a 16-hour workout (c.f. Nyad’s “never 999, always 1000” lead-in to her Olympic trials lie), she alludes to the one person in all of sports to whom she is most akin:

And when you can stand like that at the Tour de France—and I’ve interviewed all those people—and you can stand like that at base camp and look up that hill, so to speak, and know no stone unturned, now you have a lot going for you.

Yes, we know someone who had a lot going for him, someone who stood at base camp and left no stone unturned in his quest to be king of the hills. He found a way, and then Diana found one too.

Opal tiara in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Opal is Australia’s national gemstone.


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