Treasures From the ISHOF Archives and Beyond

Diana Nyad’s fraud flourishes in part because of the inaccessibility of marathon swimming data. Information about her five years on the pro swimming tour has been particularly hard to find. To try to remedy that, last summer I began working with Malaika Desrameaux, a freelance researcher from South Florida.  Malaika combed through the archives of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, finding more and better material than I could have ever imagined. It was she who unearthed the World Professional Marathon Swimming (WPMSF) bulletins that made it possible to gather much of Nyad’s race information.

I posted links to those bulletins back in September. Here, finally, is the entire trove. It includes a more compact version of the WPMSF documents; many of Swimming World’s marathon swimming columns from 1970 through 1981; a reprise of some fascinating and disturbing letters between Buck Dawson, Executive Director of the ISHOF at the time, and Joe Grossman; and another bundle of provocative notes that Diana sent to Dennis Matuch (president or secretary of the WPMSF, depending on the date) and Sandra Bucha’s parents. I’ve also included other pertinent items in an attempt to gather as much data as possible under one roof.

Part 1: Articles, Bulletins, Swimming World columns, etc.

Part 2: Sources for specific pro races

As always, if you find errors,  please let me know. Meanwhile, here are a few highlights from the collection:

When Diana met Sandy

Sandra Bucha swam her first pro race in Chicago in 1973. She finished second, just two minutes behind the winner, Holland’s Johan Schans. Diana Nyad crossed the line in 14th place, thirty-two minutes behind Bucha. Nyad would never get that close again.

This gem from the 1973 Chicago Lakefront Festival marathon has photos of Schans, Bucha, and Nyad, along with handwritten notations of their places and times. See also this results list and roster, which includes Bucha’s splits.

The two winners of the 1973 Chicago Lakefront Festival marathon, Johan Schans and Sandra Bucha.

When Diana realized that she didn’t have to be the best for people to think that she was the best

Diana Nyad claims to have been the best marathon swimmer of the 1970s, but she never came close. She did win the WPMSF world championship once, in 1974, even though Sandra Bucha was clearly the better swimmer. Nyad, however, had the money, time, and desire to fly herself around the world to compete in high-expense, low-purse races. Due to the lack of competition at those races, she could pile up the points that eventually earned her the crown.

Even so, she barely beat out Bucha, who focused on races in North America. Most of those races took place in Canada, and the Fédèration des marathons de nage traditionnels du Québec kept a separate tally:

Canadian race totals for 1974

When Diana lied to Gertrude Ederle

In the run-up to her English Channel attempts, Diana Nyad spoke with Gertrude Ederle. In 1926, Ederle had become the first woman to complete the swim. She attempted it in 1925, but her trainer pulled her out of the water unnecessarily.

Diana commiserated:

“I heard what happened to you on your first Channel attempts,” Diana tells Miss Ederle, “Someone touched you and you were disqualified.”

“The same thing happened to me once,” Diana says. “I’d just swum 32 miles across Lake Ontario and I was going for a double crossing and was signaling for my cup. Another swimmer who’d got in the water to pace me thought I was calling for help; she started to grab me. I tried to push her away and they disqualified me. After 20 hours. I’d been swimming 20 hours!” (“Challengers of the Channel,” p. 3; also see pp.  1, 2, and 4)

Except that’s not what happened. According to every report I’ve seen, Nyad was hauled from the water unconscious. Of course, that might not have been true either. See “No prizes for Diane [sic] Nyad . . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *