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.

Update, 7 Sep 2019: Integrated new evidence from “New Evidence….” Edited post for readability.

Update, 29 June 2019: Last August, the NY Times quietly issued a “correction” to a critical paragraph of Nyad’s piece. The location of the meet (see below) now reads, “That summer, on the day of a swim meet, I went over to Coach’s house for a nap.” The Times left all of Nyad’s other questionable assertions intact.

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

1. 1964 — Location of the 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." (Archived at Internet Wayback Machine and at Later On.)
photo courtesy of www.seefloridago.com
  • Nyad’s school, Pine Crest, did not hold the state championships that summer, so Nyad could not have napped at her coach’s house. 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.

3. Number of episodes of abuse

That first savage episode signaled the beginning of years of covert molestation.

When Nyad’s abuse allegations appeared in print in 1998, she said there were two incidents. By 2007, she spoke of seven. In 2014, Nyad alleged abuse “[t]hroughout high school.” Finally, in the op-ed, it’s “years of covert molestation.”

I address Nyad’s changing story in “The New York Times’ Diana Nyad Problem.”

4. 21/’71

I first gave voice to the details of the years of humiliation when I was 21….

That would have been impossible.

On or about July 29, 1971, less than a month before Nyad’s 22nd birthday and four days after her most difficult swim to date, she wrote to Jack Nelson:

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)

In order to meet her own time constraints, Nyad would have had to unburden herself within a few weeks of writing Nelson. That would not be possible for at least two reasons: first, it would have required an alarmingly immediate change of heart; second, she had that other race to swim, shortly after which she left for England. From England, she went France for a six-month study abroad program. She returned home well after she turned 22.

For details, see “New Evidence that Diana Nyad Fabricated Her Abuse Story.”

5. Speaking Out for Fifty Years

I’ve been speaking out, loud and strong, for nearly five decades now.

No, she hadn’t. “Nearly five decades” places her in the late sixties, maybe early seventies. But she began speaking out, as far as I can tell, around 1998—so less than two decades before her op-ed appeared.

Some evidence exists that she went public in 1989, though I suspect a transposition error. See the last section of “New Evidence…” for more.

6. 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 cannot have done this when she was 21—except for maybe the trip to Michigan to celebrate her friend’s birthday. Nyad would not have unburdened herself to her friend until she (Nyad) was at least 22, if she ever did so at all. See above and  “New Evidence….”

Regarding the confrontation with her coach, Nyad doesn’t give an exact date but implies that it happens soon after telling her friend. In an interview with CNN two days after her op-ed appeared, Nyad says: “I went into the principal’s office at age 21…” (1:22). That would make the year either 1970 or 1971. Again, impossible.

Jack Nelson, the coach whom Nyad doesn’t name in her op-ed but 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.

So Nyad fabricated her whole story. And none of it  jibes, of course, with the heartfelt note she wrote to Nelson just before her 22nd birthday.

7. 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.

Nyad elaborates on this in  Find a Way:

"After the ’76 Games, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated remarked to me that everybody in the swimming world knew of this coach's 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)

There have never been any such cases. Other than Nyad’s word, there is no evidence for any of the abuse that she alleges.[1]

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What kind of person would feign sexual abuse in order to gain attention?

A sociopath would. In The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout writes that there is one dependable way to identify a sociopath:

[T]he best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”

Here’s Diana in the middle of her op-ed:

I didn’t suffer the Holocaust. I’ve never been through the horrors of war. I don’t paint my youth as tragic, yet I spent every day of my high school years terrified that it would be yet another day that he would summon me after practice, for a humiliating ride in his car or a disgusting hour in the motel down the street.

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The abuse Nyad describes is horrendous. I want to believe anyone courageous enough to come forward with such information. However, after having spent the last three years documenting both Diana’s propensity for deceit and her thirst for adoration, I’ve learned that Diana Nyad is far from courageous. Rather, she is shameless, self-absorbed, and dishonest. We deceive ourselves if we don’t question any information for which Nyad is the sole source.

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