In search of the truth about Diana Nyad



“I just wanta say Fuck you and hang up”:


Unfamiliar Quotations of Diana Nyad


Diana Nyad likes to say inspiring things like:

If you get up again and again and again, one day you will make it to your other shore. (Life Examined, 5 Dec 2020)


You’re never too old to chase your dream. (“Diana Nyad Arrives . . .,” 1:38)

Depending on the dream, though, we can grow too old to accomplish it—if it was ever accomplishable in the first place.

And we can’t always make it to our other shore. An other shore, yes. Just not necessarily the one we were aiming at.

Nyad should know this better than anybody. Think Olympic gold; the English Channel; and, of course, swimming from Cuba to Florida. So in the spirit of being who we are and not who our desperation drives us to be, here is Diana Nyad unembroidered.

Eschew platitudes, not platypi.




The Person Inside

[Nyad warns a little blonde swimmer,]
‘You better not break my record, Melissa, or I’ll kill you.’”

Honolulu Star Bulletin, 16 Nov 1984


“[E]ach time a swimmer would make an attempt at the Cuba-to-Florida crossing and fail, I would do a little happy dance.”

Find a Way, p. 117


“‘And Time [Magazine] asks me, “Lissen, we don’t wanta send anybody ’cause all we want is a picture of the shark cage.” I just wanta say Fuck you and hang up. ’Cause I’m not interested in the shark cage. I mean this is one of the great athletic events in history, and they want a picture of the shark cage.’”

Viva, Nov 1978


“What I’m proud about most is the person inside . . . who I am, not what I’m doing. This swim and what it represents to the public at large has afforded me a plethora of rich opportunities to inspire.”

24Life.com, 16 Mar 2016


After acknowledging that she wanted Chloë McCardel to fail:

“But I didn’t want her to be stung or really hurt or die.”

press conference, 3 Sep 2013




The Best At Everything

“I am very certain . . . that I would have been damn good, if not the best, at anything I took seriously.”

Other Shores, p. 65


Diana reported that she probably gets sick more often than nonathletes. If a flu is making the rounds, she will have it, with its most intense symptoms.

New Times, 26 Jun 1978 (pp. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)


“I think 10 years down the road, I’ll be one of the best broadcasters there’s ever been.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, 22 Nov 1981 (pp. 1, 2)


“I thought I was going to be one of the major broadcasters of this century.”

Honolulu Star Bulletin, 16 Nov 1984


Cf. Sports Illustrated’s piece on ABC’s 1984 Olympics television coverage:

“This was marvelous entertainment—bold strokes painted on a big canvas with much feeling. Try as they might, ABC’s lesser lights, including such 15-watt bulbs as Gordon Maddux, Cathy Rigby McCoy and Diana Nyad, couldn’t sink the show with their biased commentary and shallow interviews.”


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“Live events really prove your mettle. I was the first to point out Greta Waitz had diarrhea in the New York Marathon.”

Honolulu Star Bulletin, 16 Nov 1984



Grete Waitz and Fred Lebow finishing the 1992 New York City Marathon (via New York Times, “Scandinavian Cool That Warmed New York,” 19 Apr 2011).


Norwegian running legend Grete Waitz had never gone more than twelve miles when she entered the New York City Marathon in 1978. Her 2:32.29 cut two minutes off the women’s world record. The next year, she ran 2:27.33, becoming the first woman to run a marathon under 2:30. She won the NYC marathon nine times, more than anyone in history.

But perhaps her best-known NYC finish came in 1992 when she jogged alongside her friend, the man who had invited her to do that first marathon back in 1978—race founder Fred Lebow. Doctors had diagnosed Lebow with brain cancer two years earlier. When it went into remission, he determined to celebrate his 60th birthday by finally running the race he founded. With his old friend at his side, he did just that.

Leave it to Diana, though, to get the big scoop.



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“All the biggest editors and publishers are interested [in Find A Way]; they’re all calling it probably the biggest memoir of the decade!”

“Breaking the Waves,” The New Yorker, 1 Feb 2014


“On the people score, I gave myself a high grade. . . . If only my epitaph will read, ‘The best friend on Earth.’”

Find a Way, p. 116



On her relationship with Bonnie Stoll:

“It’s a friendship straight out of legendary lore, where the heroics are traditionally reserved for men. Two devoted equals. Each one true to herself. Each one true to the other.”

Find a Way, p. 233


“This swim has come to symbolize many things to me, among them the Homeric strength of our friendship.”

Find a Way, p. 247


“When I die (not that I would be buried in an old style cemetery) the reading on the headstone I would want is, ‘You’ve never known a friend as loyal and as steadfast as Diana Nyad.’ The friends in my life stand up and make toasts on birthdays and holidays and say to the crowd, ‘You don’t know what a friend is until you’ve known what a friend Diana is.’”

reddit, 27 Jan 2014


“Nyad revealed she wants her epitaph to read, ‘She was a master storyteller.’”

24Life.com, 16 Mar 2016





“I’m the greatest.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, 16 Nov 1975


“[I]f I get to the Florida coast, that will be one of the most historic moments in sports. . . . it is certainly going to be bigger than Gertrude Ederle finishing the English Channel.”

New Times, 26 Jun 1978 (pp. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)


After becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel, Gertrude Ederle rides on the shoulders of jubilant peers: Ishak Helmy, who had failed three times to cross the Channel but would succeed two years later; and Louis Timson, who aspired to cross but never would. In the tradition of mutual support among marathon swimmers, both Helmy and Timson crewed for Ederle. “Burgess” is Bill Burgess, Ederle’s trainer, who swam the Channel in 1911. (Image: Illustrated London News, 14 Aug 1926.)



“The Cuba swim is the greatest endurance feat in human history. But if anyone can do it, I can.”

Fort Lauderdale News, 9 Jul 1978


“[O]n August 13th of this year, standing on the Cuba coast about to set off . . . I was in the best physical shape of anybody on the face of the earth.”

PBS Interview, Oct 1978: clip/complete


Regarding “the best physical shape on earth”: On July 29th, 1978, so two weeks before Nyad stood on the coast of Cuba kvelling over her physical condition, Penny Dean swam the English Channel in 7 hours and 40 minutes. She broke the overall record by more than an hour. That same summer, John Kinsella, on the way to the fourth of his eventual five world championships, won every pro race he entered. Just three days after Nyad’s Cuba-Florida failure, Kinsella won the 51 km Canadian National Exhibition race in 13 hours and 49 minutes, over an hour faster than his nearest competitor. 1978 is also the year that Grete Waitz set her first world record in the marathon run.


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“And they’re actually making a statue of me, a big bronze statue. And Key West, I told them when they make it that, when I’m 90, I’m gonna go and get a beach chair and sit under the shadow of the statue and, as people go by, say, ‘yup, yup, that’s me.’”

Generation Bold podcast, 18 Nov 2018 (18:42)


“I want to perform on stage and bring this story to life in a dramatic, storytelling way, and be known as one of the better storytellers of our time.”

Facebook Live, 5th Anniversary of the Cuba Swim (clip)


“In my society, . . . where people have nearly completely forgotten the beauty of the power that their bodies wield, I stand out as a prime physical specimen.”

Other Shores, p. 102


“The power of my shoulders, the über recognition of the mechanics of my efficient stroke, made me giddy with joy. . . .  To feel this superior level of strength, to revel in this exceptional state of fitness, was simply sublime.”

Find a Way, p. 133


“The two greatest distance swimmers on the planet today, along with me, are two Australian women.”

Neuronfire podcast, Aug 2017


“In my sixties, my will is as fierce as it ever was. But I am at the same time infinitely more accepting, this swim laying bare the crux of those two attributes in harmonious concert.”

Find a Way, pp. 240-41


“I’m so humble.”

Outside podcast, 17 May 2017 (8:35)





“No matter how late we’d sweep up onto the beach, no matter the middle of thunderstorms, standing there would be Kathy, devoted. . . . Each Mexico swim, at that last quarter mile, I’d look up, and the sight of my sentry, standing loyal at the ready.”

Find A Way, p. 126


“[T]o watch Bonnie getting all the gear ready at that same three a.m., to see Mark heading down to the dock at that hour to get the boat prepped, for Angie to slide a pillow under my head that night on the shower floor when I can’t stand any longer and can’t even make it to the bed—their dedication brought me unspeakable comfort.”

Find A Way, p. 167


“It used to be, [Jean Goldin] says, that Diana cared for no one; for most of her life people didn’t matter. Then she began to call once in a while; then she began to notice I’d always be there. . . .”
     “Nyad has here what she requires: nice, patient people who are willing to cook, worry, drive the boat, and be uncomfortable and bored, on her behalf, for long stretches of time; people who are entirely preoccupied with her well-being.”

Jane Shapiro writing in “Marathon Woman: What Makes Diana Nyad Swim?” 1978





Before first Cuba failure: “I want to finish my era in sports with a bang and this is something no other mortal could do right now. I’m talking about a heroic thing. I’m talking about winning my own Olympic medal in a stadium where no one has ever been. I have a whole Olympic Games to myself. It’s a real ego trip. There are only a few historic moments like that and this my chance to be one of them.”

Miami News, 16 Jun 1978 (pp. 1, 2, 3)


After first Cuba failure: “I put myself through a test of pain and concentration that few could endure. I showed courage that is really rare in a human being. I think of myself as a hero today and that people will recognize me as a hero.”

Clarion Ledger, 17 Aug 1978 (pp. 1, 2)


Nyad tells AP she's a hero

After failing in her 1978 attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, Nyad tells the Associated Press that “I am a hero, that’s what I wanted.”




Motivation, part 1

“Why do you swim? she is asked. For the glory and the money, she replies, and then: ‘To be someone.’”

“She Takes A Long Swim Off A Short Pier,” Sports Illustrated, 6 Dec 1971


“I am not doing this to be famous. . . . I would like to be respected and well paid—maybe recognized in New York, by people who read. Respect. I’m not doing it for street stuff, people saying, ‘Heyyy, you’re on television, right?’”

Viva, Nov 1978



Of her Manhattan swim:

“I would not deny that the day to day motivations are fame and fortune. . . . I want very much to be recognized.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, 16 Nov 1975



Of her Cuba swim:

“I don’t deny that I wanted the publicity. That’s why I chose Cuba.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, 22 Nov 1981 (pp. 1, 2)


“The Cuba swim has tremendous commercial potential,” she said. “It will be big enough to keep me on the talk show circuit for a year.”

The Star, 4 Jul 1978


“‘I want the American public to recognize me. I want to open a women’s fitness center in Manhattan. I’ve written a screenplay. I could make films. . . .’ All spring she told people about the swim: ‘A Hellenic feat, an outrageous feat, it fulfills my fantasies! It’s so obviously the greatest endurance feat in history. . . . I want the American public to appreciate this. . . . NBC has bought the exclusive rights. Everybody will cover this swim.’”

Ms. Magazine, Aug 1978


“I want to be known as the very best at something and have a reputation for that. I didn’t say be the best because I’ve been that for eight years. I said be known as the best. I feel that pressure very strong.’”

Miami News, 16 Jun 1978 (pp. 1, 2, 3)




Motivation, part 2

“My motivations in doing the Manhattan swim were high-minded.”

Find a Way, p. 66


“The athletic details of the day, being the fastest to date, and the first woman, weren’t of any great significance to me. It was much more about the inspiration of the moment.”

archived blog post, 9 Jun 2011


“My direct, conscious goal is not to be better than others. My intense focus is to be my best self. If that self winds up being interpreted as ‘unlike any other,’ so be it.”

originally at MyFitnessPal, 2017 (archived and here)


“I’m just living out loud. You know, a true Greek story of a 35 year dream that’s authentic and has no ulterior motives to it whatsoever. It’s just pure.”

Diana Nyad & Catherine Opie, 5 Dec 2013 (29:52)





On turning pro:

“Actually, I can’t stand swimming. It’s very boring. It is the most boring thing I can think of. But after all the time I have put into swimming, I felt it should pay off in some way.”

Military Life, Nov-Dec 1974


“I want to do something unprecedented in the world of sports—something so outrageously difficult it would go unmatched for many, many years. I want to bid my love affair with marathon swimming a spectacular farewell. I want to accomplish the unimaginable.”

Other Shores, p. 154


“To my imagination, this swim has developed in the genre of the old Greek myth—grandeur and excellence lie at its core.”

Other Shores, p. 174


“[S]wimming for any length of time is without a doubt the most boring exercise imaginable. Take it from someone who knows.”

Other Shores, p. 82



About nine months before Nyad’s stumble up Smathers Beach, artist Carmen Winant asked Nyad to explain how she trained as a kid. Nyad’s response:

“I am not terribly interested in this particular conversation at all, and I really don’t know what it has to do with anything. The life that I am living now has absolutely nothing to do with swimming. I am sixty-three years old, living a life of passion and rediscovered commitment. I could give a shit if I swam, or was a sculptor, or anything else. That life meant nothing to me.”

The Believer (archived), 1 Jan 2013




Walter Poenisch

“He’s not a legal marathon swimmer. . . . He does not swim by the rules. He’s a gimmick. . . . In the world of sports, he’s a cheat.”

New York Times, 14 Jul 1978


“I’ve been calling the Swimming Hall of Fame about this guy who claims he’s done some ninety-mile swim, and of course it’s illegitimate, ridiculous.”

Ms. Magazine, Aug 1978


“‘Nothing personal,’ she said, ‘but he was strictly a charlatan. See, marathon swimming isn’t like other sports. A baseball player can’t say he hit .500 for the season because somebody can check. How was somebody supposed to check on Poenisch?’”

Minneapolis Tribune, 10 Feb 1980


“If Poenisch had showed up at the English Channel, he would have been laughed out of the water.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, 15 Jul 1978


Nyad’s jellyfish suit, boom, directional streamer, etc., all violate English Channel rules. Had she shown up in Dover with any of that paraphernalia, Channel officials probably would have been too polite to laugh. They’d have found a kind way to tell her to get lost.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted Walter Poenisch in 2017. Diana Nyad is still waiting.




Once A Liar

“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.”

The Village Voice, 1976


“I’m an absolutely aboveboard person who never cheated on anything in my whole life. . . . I hope they’re not questioning I’m an honest person.”

New York Times, 8 Sep 2013


“It’s important if you are going to take a look at your life that you have to be honest about it.”

“The Courage to Succeed,” 1997


“I never ever knew that we would not be trusted.”

Reuters, 10 Sep 2013


From a member of Nyad’s crew: “[D]uring preparation for the swim it was a foregone conclusion amongst the seasoned crew members that there were lots of active skeptics in the past and for sure there would be in the future . . .” (via text message, Feb 2018).




Diana’s Pedigree

“ [T]he big [60th] birthday neared, [Nyad] became overwhelmed with regret . . . ‘Just second-guessing everything. It was ruthless . . . this was just a constantly revolving regret and self-bashing: I really don’t deserve this. I’m really not that good. Somebody’s going to find out I’m a fraud.’ ”

Out Magazine, 9 Jul 2012 (my emphases)


“I certainly hope that all of you out there know of my pedigree for many years in this sport. I have always upheld the highest ideals. It is the champions who achieve under the purest circumstances whom I respect . . . and I have always, proudly, fallen into that category.”

archived blog post, 20 Jul 2012


“We did not break one rule. I never of course touched a boat or another person . . . I am an honest, straightforward person. Never been anything but. Every attempt I’ve made has been by the rule books.”

Facebook (screen capture), 6 Sep 2013




Above: Diana Nyad breaks the cardinal rule of marathon swimming: don’t touch the boat or another person. In real marathon swimming, touching the boat is equivalent to tapping out in wrestling and signals an immediate end to the attempt. Photo from 2012.

Below: In the days after her 2013 attempt, Nyad claimed that no one touched her during the swim. Later, she changed her story: “[N]o handlers grabbing my ankles . . . I was on my own steam entirely, but I was touched. I agree with it” (CNN, 11 Nov 2013). Below, a handler grabs Nyad’s ankle during her 2013 attempt.






Bravissima, Diana!

      “One of the strongest sensual memories I consistently have after the long swims is of the women on the shore. Wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares. Egyptian women, Italian women, Argentinian women staring in wondrous disbelief as if their souls are awakened by the power of my act.”

Other Shores, p. 92


“They are always there. The men yell ‘Bravo, Diana!’ ‘Fantastic!’ ‘Brave young woman!’ And the women just stare. Incredulous, awe-filled, envious stares. The utter exhaustion, and the courage it conveys, seems to be an inspiration to everyone who witnesses it.”

Other Shores, p. 15


“A woman asked me after a speech during the Cuba prep how I could train at this level, with the normal aches and pains that come at my age. I answered, ‘Don’t put your assumptions of what one is supposed to feel at my age on me. I defy those suppositions of limitations. If you feel aches and pains, say so. But I don’t, and I refuse to follow your or anybody else’s controlling and denigrating parameters of mediocrity.’”

Find a Way, p. 222



From Jane Shapiro’s “Marathon Woman: What Makes Diana Nyad Swim?” Nyad speaks first:

     “I go up to people all the time and I do usually make friends with them. I’m so gregarious and friendly! And as soon as they call me back I never wanta see them.”
     “I know,” I say, “you just want a moment.”
     “Yeah, I want a moment, but then later I’m rude, I say, ‘Where the fuck did you get my number!’ They say, ‘You gave it to me yesterday,’ you told me, ‘COME OVER. NEVER CALL FIRST!’” Nyad is screaming, a loud, funny, confused whine. “And people come with their suitcases, they say, ‘You said stay with me anytime!’
     ‘And I say, ‘DON’T STAY WITH ME! I’m busy!’”

Viva, Nov 1978