In search of the truth about Diana Nyad
Morgan: So what is your reaction to the critics who come out chopping at your record.
Nyad: Well, you know, I guess it’s two-fold. Number one, fair enough, you set a big record like that, I mean, my God, not just me—people been trying since 1950 to get across. It did seem nearly impossible. Most of my crew thought it was impossible.
[Um] So someone does it, whether it was me or somebody else, it better be vetted, it better be vetted you know right down to the nth degree. Was it fair? Was it fair and square? And [um] we have done that. We’ve provided now all our logs . . . that there’s just no [no] doubting. It was clear that we went from the rocks of Cuba to the sand of Florida without ever touching that boat, without ever getting out on the boat, without ever using fins or, you know, anything that would be untoward. Our team is squeaky clean.
But I’ll tell you the negative reaction I have to being scrutinized. That’s my team. I, you know, I have my head handler, Bonnie Stoll, who’s the most ethical person on this planet. Our navigator, John Bartlett, is a clear genius at oceanography. Our doctor Angel Yanagihara is the number one box jellyfish expert in the world. We had 44 people out there, and for them to be doubted that we would ever do anything against the rules of this great sport is just [um] that irks me. But [um] I think we’re getting past it now.
Morgan: Let’s go through the cheat sheet as some people are calling it, and I want your quick and firm responses to these. First and foremost, did you get any assistance, did you have anybody help you touch a boat to get a rest or anything of that nature.
Nyad: Never. Never took a rest. Never touched a boat. Never got out on a boat.
Morgan: Okay, unequivocal.
Nyad: Out in the . . . out in the open ocean the entire time.
Morgan: That’s the first question. You couldn’t have been more unequivocal. We move on. After 27 hours [did he mean 37 hours?] of swimming, you went from your normal pace of 1.5 mph to more than 3 mph, which many marathon swimmers say was deeply suspicious.
Nyad: You know, it’s just pure math. I just can’t imagine. I could see from a lay public who doesn’t understand currents. But from people from the marathon swimming world?
I mean, all you have to know is that you’re in the gulf stream, you can pick up the navigational charts. You know, almost any website available that shows these things, and sometimes you’re going with no current whatsoever. So then of course, empirically, you’re just going the exact speed you swim. Other times you’re going north against an eastern facing current—now you’re going with a little bit of your own speed added with a tiny bit of an eastern current.
Now, you go north with an exact current if you got lucky which I did that day. Then you add those two vectors together. So if I’m swimming at 1.7 miles per hour, and I’ve got a current at let’s say 2.2 miles an hour, it’s very easy. You add those together, and you’re at close to 4 miles an hour. It’s easy. It’s easy.
Morgan: Okay . . . I did see an ocean expert confirming that it was almost the perfect conditions for you, that the currents were aligned in the way that you just described.
Question: That was all settled? Or, how did it end up?
Nyad: You know, on the one hand, I tried to keep my composure about that because we’re in the Lance Armstrong era. And anytime someone does something these days that seems outrageous, you know, and this particular event was called impossible. I had tried it four times myself. I think, if someone else had done it, I don’t think it would be . . . I would politely . . . but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to ask to see those navigation charts and understand exactly how the event was done. We did have 44 people out there. We had two independent observers. Several of the people on those boats—many of them actually didn’t know me. Just my inner circle did. They were just operating the boats, so, you know, not only am I a noble person, and I would never cheat at anything, much less my dream. And I’ve got esteemed people like Dr. Yanigahara with us, you know, I don’t know what they thought—that I got out on the boat and slept for 12 hours as we motored toward Cuba [sic]? You know, 44 people can’t keep a secret.
Um, but I didn’t mind. They were polite, that big group of marathon swimmers. John Bartlett got on a phone call with them for 13 hours [sic] and went over every eighth- and quarter-of-a-mile of that swim. They talked about what was the exact GPS latitude longitude coordinates at every single juncture. What was the stream going—in what direction, at what speed? What speed was I going? When I stopped, how far was I tugged to the east? And they, 98% of them, were very kind and said she swam fair and square, shore to shore. And I, in the end, didn’t mind them asking to vet the event. There are a couple that are still haters. Every day, every day, they’re on Facebook, [they’re] calling me that they don’t believe I ever swam around Manhattan Island. They don’t believe . . . they think I’m an absolute fraud and I’ve never done anything I’ve said I’ve done. What can I do? They have some power with the internet, and I just don’t respond anymore. [Why should she—she’s doing quite well with the status quo.] I came up, and John Bartlett, and we proved ourselves.
Believe me, I sleep very easily at night. I know what I’ve done. And I would never disrespect my team, I don’t think, by engaging with these people anymore. There are people who don’t believe Neil Armstrong ever went to the moon. And, um, so there are only two left—there are two guys—and they’re at it. And especially now, if I ever have a moment where I’m in the media bit, as with this book, the last couple days, they’ve been at it heavy. Strong and heavy. And I just try to look to, you know, the New York Times and, today, People magazine named it their book-of-the-week, and people like you who come out with respect. There’s plenty of positive. And just these two guys, I just have to let them go.
Questioner: As you know, there were questions within the swimming community about whether or not you had really followed the rules, whether you’d gotten help, whether you’d held onto the boat, whether you were wearing the right kinds of stuff, or wearing stuff that was against the rules—your reaction to that.
Nyad: You know, in the end, I don’t blame them. They were upright people. They had to vet the event like anybody would. It was a big record, and it was supposedly not possible to do. And they were polite, most of them. We got on a big all-night telephone call with my navigator who went over every 8th-of-a-mile: here’s where we were, the vector of the current was such, Diana’s vector was such, and that why we were at latitude-longitude such, and went through the entire 110.86 miles. And they were polite and gracious and said, “fair enough, shore to shore, you know, you did it.” And so, uh, there are a couple a haters out there. I don’t know what to do about them—there are still people who don’t believe Neil Armstrong ever walked on the moon. So, uh, TRUST ME, we had 44 people out there. I couldn’t have gotten out on a boat and slept for hours and we would motor ahead and get me in somewhere else. Forty-four people wouldn’t keep a secret. I’m a noble person. We had people like Dr. Angel Yanagihara is a world’s leading jellyfish expert from University of Hawaii. A number of people of that ilk who would never, you know, lose their reputations and do something untoward. Uh, we’re, we’re, we’re, we’re a, we’re a noble, honest group, and we sleep very easily at night. We did this swim fair and square.
Blue Sky, 4 Nov 2015
Interviewer: You know, I was thinking about how after you did complete the swim, even at that point there were people who sort of questioned how you did it, whether you did it, that sort of thing. And between that and having been silenced earlier in your life, I wonder what can we learn from how you coped with that, how you dealt with the haters.
DN: I guess, first of all, we’re living in that . . . Lance Armstrong era, frankly, and, uh, people who achieve outrageous accomplishments, things that seemed impossible, we tend to doubt everybody now. Did they take steroids, did they cheat in some way? Um, so I understand that. There’s also, I think, just the issue . . . and, you know, we all can see there are people far more famous than I am . . . and as soon as you achieve something of a heroic status, and soon as everybody loves you, and they, and they respond to what you represent, then the haters come right along . . . at a smaller level and a smaller number of people . . . but they’re right in there too. And part of it is the desire to be heard. The internet is a . . . is a wonderful place for citizen journalism and self-expression, that everyone can weigh in.
clip #2: “haters are always gonna’ hate”
. . . and on the other hand, there are crazy people, there are hateful people, people who don’t believe Neil Armstrong went to the moon. There are a couple of people out there who don’t believe I swam from Cuba to Florida. They think I got on a boat and went for twelve hours sleeping, you know, moving forward and then got out, you know, much closer to shore, and then swam. We had 44 people out there, and two of them were independent observers, not part of my team.
You know, we sat down with the navigator and showed them every eighth-of-a-mile of where the current vector was, where my speed vector was, where the latitude-longitude point was. And, um, you know, we are clearly a noble group. . . . So BELIEVE ME, we swam shore to shore, and it was fair and square. And most of them were very gracious. When we did our navigational charts for them, that group of marathon swimmers who just . . . I won’t say they doubted . . . they wanted to see the proof. And I don’t blame them, it’s okay. And we vetted it, and they all said to me or wrote to me or John Bartlett, my navigator: “Thank you. Thank you for taking the time. You know, fair enough, it’s done.”
And the couple that are still out there—haters are always gonna’ hate, and they’re still there.
[Question in progress]
Audience member: How do you deal with that sort of thing [i.e., the “so-called experts” and doubters].
Nyad: You know, number one . . . I think that we are living in what you might call the Lance Armstrong era in sports, and anyone who achieves something seemingly outrageous, um, is questioned, so I have to sort of keep that in perspective.
Also most of the people who came up with the challenge are true bona fide marathon swimmers with great records, and they were respectful about it. They said that they just wanted to get on a phone call with my navigator and me and a couple of other people from our swim to really go over all the science and the actual vectors and where were you at this time, and John Bartlett went over every quarter-of-a-mile and said, “here, I’ve got my electronic GPS gear and said, “here’s where we were, here’s how fast the current was running and what direction, here’s how fast Diana was swimming and what direction. Those vectors mean this. When she would stop,” and he had it exactly at 39 hours 38 minutes or whatever he said, “we did go east and we wound up at this particular point.”
And he went through it, and a large part of that swimming community said, “congratulations, I hope you don’t mind that we made you go through it.”
We had two independent observers on our swim, who were not . . . first of all, nobody was paid . . . on the entire expedition, not one person was paid. But we had two people who were not part of the team. And actually, if you talk to the other swimmers here, you’ll find out that you are allowed to ratify a swim by having even your husband or your best friend or your son or your daughter be the actual observer who takes very specific long notes for every minute and can say at the end, “never did she touch the boat, get out on a boat, hang on to kayak, use flippers.” Um, you know, all the things that would make a swim legal.
So, you know, there are still a couple of haters out there. There are still people who don’t believe Neil Armstrong ever walked on the moon. I can’t do much about them, but I tell ’ya, we were 44 people, so anybody who thought that I got on the boat and slept for 12 hours while we motored to the next position, um, it just, it couldn’t be done. We were a noble group, and I uh, I never lost any sleep over what we accomplished, and nobody will ever take it away from us.
I thank you.
GR: How did you feel about the naysayers, the critics, the “bad‑mouthers” who came out after all that?
DN: It hurt. I won’t pretend it didn’t. I tried to stay classy about it and not act all pissed off. On the one hand, most of them upwards of 95 percent were just respectful people that come from the world of marathon swimming. And they had the right to ask the vetting questions. After all, we are in what you might call “the Lance Armstrong era” so that almost any record is like did she take steroids? Did she cheat in some way? How could she have done this impossible thing?
So my navigator John Bartlett and I and a few members of the team got on a long, marathon phone call with all those people. John Bartlett got out his electronic devices that measured the GPS tracking and proved, every eighth of a mile, where we were at that moment. Almost every single one of them said, I hope you don’t mind but we had to ask that. There are a couple who are haters who are still out there. They think I’m total fraud, that I didn’t do anything I said. I didn’t swim around Manhattan Island. I didn’t swim from Cuba to Florida. And if that’s the way they want to spend their lives you know, what a waste.
Also see Nyad’s memoir, Find a Way: “I was criticized . . .”