Addressing Diana’s Op-Ed

Nyad’s recent piece in the New York Times contains a number of inaccuracies that cast a shadow over the validity of her allegations.

All quotes come from Nyad’s article unless otherwise noted.

1. 1964 — Location of meet

"That summer, our school hosted the state championships. It was a big deal, and I was a star in the middle of it all. In between the afternoon preliminaries and the night finals, bursting with confidence, I went over to Coach’s house for a nap."
photo courtesy of www.seefloridago.com
  • Nyad could not have napped at her coach’s house between the prelims and the finals. Nyad’s school, Pine Crest, was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In 1964, the state meet took place in Gainesville, over 300 miles away.
  • Pine Crest could not have hosted a state meet or a championship of any kind in 1964. The school had only a four-lane 20 yard pool and no diving well.

2. 1964—Results of Nyad’s Race

Nyad elaborates on the 1964 state meet in her 2015 memoir, Find a Way:

"I lost my race that night, unheard of at that point, at the state level." (p. 46)
Nyad’s winning race at the 1964 state meet in Gainesville.
  • She won her race that night.
  • A week earlier, at the district meet—again, not at Pine Crest but at Stranahan High School—she loses her race. She had also lost races the previous year. For example: the Fort Lauderdale Invitational (detail) and the Gold Coast Championships. So losing was definitely heard of by the time Nyad swam in the state meet. However…
  • …1964 was the first time that Nyad swam in a state meet, so she’s right about  never having lost at the state level.

Given the true location and the real results of the meet, one must conclude that Nyad’s op-ed report is, at best, seriously flawed.

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3. 1971—Confronting Coach

"I was 21 when I told someone the whole horrid saga for the first time. I took a weekend trip to Michigan to celebrate the birthday of my best friend from high school, and every heinous detail, every recounted word, came spewing forth...." 

"[W]e confronted Coach, in front of our high school principal and the school’s lawyer.... The next day he was fired...."

Nyad doesn’t give a date for the confrontation, though she implies it happens soon after telling her friend. In an interview with CNN two days after the  her piece appeared, Nyad says: “I went into the principal’s office at age 21…” (1:22). That would make the year either 1970 or 1971. But Jack Nelson, the coach whom Nyad has no qualms about naming elsewhere, doesn’t leave Pine Crest until 1975. He announces his resignation in March of that year, but stays on through July. Nyad is making something up.

And none of this jibes with what Nyad said about Nelson back in the year she claims to have visited the principal:

"I've been in four marathon swims now, and after each one I've heard the winner say he'd never do it again. I said the same thing, and now, four days later, I'm planning to enter another very soon. These swims have a deep-felt effect on me. I need to share them with someone who is capable of understanding." (Sports Illustrated, 6 Dec 1971)

4. Other Victims

"Well, Diana, hold on to your hat because the same thing happened to me....” And we soon learned that it wasn’t just the two of us. It never is."

And in the aforementioned CNN interview:

"That coach was fired [in 1971] from that school. He ran—as the epidemic goes—right up the coast, got another job, molested at the next job. Went right up the coast and got another job...." (1:31)

And from Find a Way:

"In 2004, at a Hall of Fame evening where I was honored, a minimum of four hundred people approached me to ask me when something was going to be done about this guy. After the ’76 Games, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated remarked to me that everybody in the swimming world knew of this coaches sex crimes and would shake their heads that he got away with it for so long.... Many of those cases are finally coming to justice now." (pp. 59-60)

Other than Nyad’s word, there is no evidence for any of this, for any of the alleged abuse. By the way, less than 150 people attended that “2004” International Swimming Hall of Fame event (which took place in 2002).  As for “many of those cases…finally coming to justice…,” there have never been any such cases.

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One final correction. At the end of Nyad’s piece, the Times adds:

"Diana Nyad is the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida."

If Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida, she was the third to do so. But Nyad never proved that she made it the whole way under her own power.

After the crossing, Nyad declared, “I’m sure this swim will be ratified in due time….” To date, the “swim” remains unratified. Please see the Diana Nyad Fact Check site for more.

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The abuse Nyad describes is horrendous. I want to believe anyone brave enough to come forward with such information. However, having spent the last two years documenting both Diana’s deceit and her drive to be adored, I can’t ignore the way she plays fast and loose with the truth.

In 1978, Nyad said:

"I want to be known as the very best at something and have a reputation for that. I didn't say be the best.... I said be known as the best. I feel that pressure very strong." (Miami Herald, pp. 1, 2, 3)

In interviews since Nyad’s op-ed appeared, I’ve watched a woman energized and exuberant, a woman feeling the pressure—feeling the longing —to lead the charge against sexual abuse just like Lance Armstrong led the charge against cancer.

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