In search of the truth about Diana Nyad



Manhattan (1975)



“I was the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island.”

Diana Nyad, Find a Way, p. 66




Six pioneering female athletes swam around Manhattan Island before Diana Nyad:


Does Diana Nyad honestly believe she was first?

Not unless she lies to herself as convincingly as she lies to everyone else.

Nyad researched the swim before she completed it in 1975. She documents her findings in her 1978 memoir, Other Shores:

Ida Elionsky’s time was a very respectable 11 hours, 35 minutes. There were others who made the swim . . . but I will simply mention the male and female record holders. Diane Struble plunged into the Battery waters on August 15, 1959, and reached her original starting point in 11 hours, 21 minutes. (p. 57)

So Nyad knew the names and details of at least two and probably more of her predecessors. By 1981, though, she began claiming to be first, and she never stopped—except for a few months’ break after she got caught.

In 2011, CNN, one of Nyad’s sponsors, investigated her Manhattan claim and learned that she was lying. Nyad feigned ignorance. In a blog post she later deleted, Nyad declared: “I am quite frankly stunned to hear now that this title is probably not mine to claim.”

But just as with the Cuba–Florida swim, Nyad was desperate to be first. So less than a year later, she stole back the title from Ida Elionsky. In a May 2012 Elle profile, Rivka Galchen reports that no women had swum Manhattan before Nyad.

A few months later, Nyad declares on camera that she was “the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island, you know, and that sort of thing” (Diana: A Documentary, 4:00). She devotes an entire chapter of her 2015 memoir, Find a Way, to her Manhattan first.


What did the Times say?

Nyad claims that “the paper of record,” presumably the New York Times, called her “the first woman ever to swim around the most famous island in the world.” But it said no such thing. In a lengthy account the Times published the day after the swim, Frank Prial notes that “the old record was set by Byron Sommers in 1927. In 1959 Diane Strubel made the trip in 11 hours 59 minutes.”

Many other newspapers also mention Struble. None call Nyad the first.

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Here’s the timeline:

by 1975   

Nyad learns that Ida Elionsky, Diane Struble, and others, had circled Manhattan.

1975, Oct   

Nyad swims around the island. In an article that appeared the day afterward, The New York Times notes that “in 1959 Diane Strubel made the trip in 11 hours 59 minutes.”


Nyad’s first memoir, Other Shores, appears. She writes about Elionsky, Struble, and others.


Nyad claims to be the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island, which she continues to do until . . . 


CNN investigates at the behest of Morty Berger, founder of NYC Swim, and learns Nyad wasn’t first.

2011, Jun

In “History Rewritten . . . ,” Nyad writes:

“[I]magine my mind-boggling surprise . . . to hear that there were in fact one or maybe two or maybe even as many as half a dozen women who did swim around Manhattan back in the early days!!!!!”


2012, May

Nyad tells Elle magazine she was first.

2012, Jul

Nyad says on camera that she was “the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island.”


Nyad’s second memoir, Find a Way, appears. She devotes a chapter to her Manhattan first.


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Toward the end of “History Rewritten . . . ,” Nyad proclaims, “I hereby relinquish my title as the first woman.” But she had nothing to relinquish. She lied about being first, then lied about lying about it. “I take both joy and pride,” she continues, “in honoring all great women athletes of all eras.” Trying to erase her predecessors from history, however, sounds more like malice and envy than respect.


Stealing first: In footage from multiple sources, Diana Nyad claims to be the first woman to circle Manhattan (“and that sort of thing”).


Further Reading 

Diana Nyad was not the only swimmer who falsely claimed to be the first woman to circle Manhattan. Diane Struble did too. But in her case, it appears she made an honest mistake. Lottie Schoemmell’s son Harold met Struble at the end of her Manhattan swim. He showed her a clipping about his mother. After that, Struble never again claimed to be first.

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