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.
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).”
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).”
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:
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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