In search of the truth about Diana Nyad




After skeptics questioned Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida crossing, she declared:

I’m an absolutely aboveboard person who never cheated on anything in my whole life. . . . I hope they’re not questioning if I’m an honest person. (“Celebration Gives Way to Questions and Doubt After a Record Swim,” NY Times, 8 Sep 2013)

If they weren’t questioning she was an honest person, they should have been. The following clips show a few of the many reasons why.

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Diana Nyad was the 7th woman to swim around Manhattan Island. When she completed the swim in 1975, she knew she wasn’t the first. After CNN investigated her first-woman-around-Manhattan claim, Nyad semi-recanted. Then, in a short documentary posted a month later, she said this:


For details, please see “Manhattan (1975).”


Olympic Trials

Fourteen-year-old Laura Novak of Dearborn, Michigan, finished sixth in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1968 U.S. Olympic Trials. Nyad never qualified for the trials, but she often says she did, stealing Novak’s place:


For details, please see “Olympic Trials (1968).”


English Channel

The summer Nyad turned 27, she made three unsuccessful attempts to cross the English Channel. Here’s what she has to say about those failures:


Nyad occasionally brings up the English Channel, but usually to belittle those who have swum it. For more details, please see “The English Channel (1976).”


First Pro Race

Course: half-mile loop just off-shore in Lake Ontario.
Water temperature: 64-66.
Distance: 10 miles.
Nyad’s time: 4 hours, 23 minutes.
Place: 1st woman, 10th of 30 starters.


Nyad tells many other versions of this tale. For details, please see “First Pro Race (1970).” Also, see the “Judith de Nijs”; section of “Dishonoring Women” to learn how Nyad disrespects and denigrates the great Dutch athlete who finished second.


The Best Ocean Swimmer of the 1970s

Diana Nyad completed some excellent swims in the 1970s:

  • finishing in record time in her first pro race,
  • setting a record in the Maratona Del Golfo Capri-Napoli in 1974,
  • and setting another mark when she circled Manhattan a year later.


Other than possibly the Capri-Napoli event, though, Diana Nyad never completed any of the world’s major ocean swims.


For details—and to find out about the genuinely great marathon swimmers of the 1970s—see “The Best of the ’70s.


Everybody’s Doin’ It

In 1978, Walter Poenisch became the first person to attempt (and complete) a solo crossing from Cuba to Florida. Since then, only four others besides Nyad have attempted the swim.


For details, please see “Everybody’s Doin’ It.” What’s more, no one besides Nyad calls Cuba-Florida “the Mt. Everest of the earth’s oceans.”


30 Years

Though Nyad retired from long swims in 1979, she didn’t stop swimming entirely. She swam a Long Island Sound relay in 1989. She planned to swim it in 1990 and presumably trained for it but had to withdraw. She completed the 1996 Alcatraz Sharkfest swim.


For details, please see “No Escape.”


Box Jellyfish

Unless you are a shrimp or small fish, your chance of dying in the Florida Straits from the mere touch of a box jellyfish tentacle is almost zero. On her crew, Nyad had two doctors, an E.R. nurse, and a box jellyfish expert. So, her stings hurt and scared her, but she was in little danger.


For details, please see “Not a Tentacle to Stand On: Diana Nyad and the Truth About the Box.” The Florida Strait box jellies are not the same as the more lethal ones off Australia’s coast. Even there, though, fatalities are rare. A 17-year-old Queensland boy died in February from box jelly stings, the first reported fatality in Australia in 14 years.


The Call

Eight days after Nyad came ashore at Smathers Beach, she joined a conference call with 14 members of the marathon swimming community. The call gave the public the impression that Nyad was open to addressing her skeptics’ questions.

See also “Nyad’s Statements After the 10 September 2013 Conference Call.”

Nyad doesn’t restrict her storytelling to aquatic matters. She lies about anything and everything: her family, her health, her memory, her support of other women, etc. Dr. Barbara Distel, former director of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial in Germany, told me that Nyad’s Holocaust survivor story is “completely fictional.” For Nyad’s other despicable lie, see “Addressing Diana’s Op-ed.”

Below are two less fraught examples of Nyad’s land-based fabrications.


The Glowing Review

In September 2019, Nyad gave three Off-Broadway performances of her two-person show, The Swimmer. As best I can tell, no professional critic reviewed it, though Emma Brockes of the Guardian said nice things about it. A month after The Swimmer ended its run, Nyad spoke about it in Los Angeles. I apologize for the abominable audio.


For details—and more stuff Nyad made up about The Swimmer—please see “Nyad at the Ebell, part 1: The Best on Planet Earth.”


Dr. Diana

Nyad graduated from Chicago’s Lake Forest College with a B.A. in 1973. In the fall of ’73, she enrolled in graduate school at New York University. She left at the end of the school year and would never again pursue an advanced degree.


For details, please see “Diana Nyad’s Academic Freedom.” Also, see the “Degrees of Diana” section of “The Best Worst Liar.”


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Above: Nyad at the 2015 Barnard College commencement. (Screenshot from “Commencement 2015: Citation for Diana Nyad.”)

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It’s true I used to lie. . . . Only to impress myself. I would tell a cab driver a lie—anybody. I don’t have to do that anymore.

Diana Nyad quoted in The Village Voice, 2 Feb 1976