Nyad at the Ebell, part 2: It was Always Cuba, The Bartlett Pair, and Other Myths

More nonsense from Diana Nyad’s presentation a the Ebell of Los Angeles on October 7, 2019.

Warning: This post contains profanity—mostly “bullshit,” because Diana Nyad utters mainly that.

¡Cuba Siempre! 

After claiming to have been “the best ocean swimmer in the world” (see previous post), Nyad takes a step back to admire her grandeur and finds it wanting:

I held all the major records on planet Earth, uh, out in the open sea. But for me, all those were in one category—the Bay of Naples, the swims along the Argentine coast—all respectable, tough swims. But it was always about Cuba for me.

Image via the website of the North American Tiddlywinks Association.

That’s pile of bullshit #1—it was never about Cuba. It was always about fame and adoration. How she achieved those things mattered not at all. If she could have gained world-wide attention playing tiddlywinks, she would have done so gladly—fewer jellyfish that way.

Nyad implies in her 2015 memoir,  Find a Way,  that she went all-in on Cuba shortly after her 1975 Manhattan triumph. Newspaper accounts, however, tell a different story. By the summer of 1976, Nyad had no thoughts of swimming from Cuba to Florida:

She has great plans: the [English] Channel this year; then there are the Great Lakes, and she’d like to swim through the Bermuda Triangle to see what happens. (San Antonio Star, 12 Sep 1976)

February of 1977—and still no thoughts of Cuba. She had, in fact, begun working an entirely new racket:

Because she has become the best at it, Diana has begun to lose interest in swimming. She is now devoting her time and energy to becoming champion in another sport—  squash. (Glamour, Feb 1977. Note that Diana’s good friend and enabler Candace Hogan wrote this piece, hence the “best at it” buy-in.)

Then a Cuba swim occurs to her—or, more likely, to her publicist—but it’s not a heart thing:

The 27-year-old talks confidently about attempting a swim from Cuba to Miami in the summer of next year…. She says she wants to do it for the thrill of having done it, of course, and the pride the feat will give her. But there are other reasons, too. Her manager has told her the event is a publicist’s dream…. (Family Weekly, 27 Mar 1977)

“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 July 1978)

If that doesn’t pan out, though, how about Greece?

“I don’t care if it’s the Aegean Sea or another Cuba to Florida run or what it is. It’s got to be 100 miles of open ocean water, from land to land.” (Minneapolis Tribune, 10 Feb 1980)

After ostensibly succeeding in her 2013 Cuba-Florida attempt, Nyad rearranges another timeline. “Screw the truth,” she seems to be saying, “it just impedes narrative flow.” In Find a Way, you’ll find nothing about those swims in the Great Lakes, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Aegean. Finally, it’s all about Cuba.

Just after describing how she had become “the first woman to swim around Manhattan” (Find a Way, p. 66), Nyad writes:

It was time to get focused. Candace and I gathered the charts of the Earth’s oceans on the floor of our Upper West Side apartment….

I remember it as if it were yesterday. My eyes swept the charts and, zowie, there it was. Cuba.” (p. 69)

Like much of what Nyad describes in Find a Way, that did not happen. (See, for instance, giant flying squid “grabbing birds out of the air,” etc., in “From Bimini to the Big Apple: The Lies in Find a Way.”)

If this was always about anything, it was about the Olympics, Diana’s ur-dream. But Nyad never had the speed to qualify.  She couldn’t let herself believe that, though, so she made up a story about a debilitating illness. Then she came up with a consolation prize:

“This is my Olympics,” she says matter-of-factly…. “The Cuban swim is the greatest endurance feat in human history. But if anyone can do it, I can.” (Philadelphia Enquirer, 10 Aug 1978)

John Bartlett’s Thumbs

That first day was glorious…. John Bartlett, our genius navigator, was out of the navigation cabin all day with his thumbs up.

We didn’t see that one minute—not a minute!—not a minute of the other four previous attempts. He was ecstatic; he’s usually despondent.

Point #1: Diana Nyad was in no position to see this. She was busy swimming (or not). She often talks about sensory deprivation, so she was also busy being sensorially deprived. Thus, she would not have seen John Bartlett’s thumbs, even if such a vision was to be had.

Point #2: The two people in the best position to see John Bartlett’s thumbs, the swim’s observers, never mention them. Previous to the Ebell speech, the only mention of that particular Bartlett pair comes on the second day:

As the sun climbed higher on Day 2, she passed the 24-hour mark…. By noon, the Gulf Stream current had increased to 3.8 knots and turned in a more northeasterly direction, with a counterclockwise-churning eddy to the west — “Just what we’d hoped for,” said Bartlett, beaming and flashing a thumbs-up to the crew. (Miami Herald, 17 Sep 2013)

And I see Bartlett’s head peering out his window, right above the Handler’s station. He gives me a big thumbs-up, that grin still beaming ear to ear. (Find a Way, p. 261)

Point #3: Why does this matter? Because Diana wants to rewrite history again. She wants us to think that Bartlett knew about the magic current from day one and that he couldn’t help but comment digitally. The magic current, however, doesn’t turn up until days after the swim—by which time Diana and her associates have realized that their stream of bullshit hasn’t carried everyone along. (For more on this, see “Countering the Currents.”)

Nyad’s Secret Stash

You know, it’s been six years now since the stumble up on that beach. And I do remember it because it was so hard to do. But the real truth is I don’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting around watching footage of the Cuba swim.

What footage? Most of the film from Diana’s crossing went missing shortly after her amble up Smathers Beach. Maybe Diana stashed all the video in the same bank vault she claims to have hidden her GPS trackers (Find a Way, p. 278).

Meanwhile, we mortals have to make do with scraps, often from previous swims:

During her 2012 Cuba-Florida attempt, Nyad intentionally grabs the boat and pushes off, grounds for immediate disqualification under the rules of any legitimate marathon swim. Notice that her crew is cheering, an indication that Nyad chose her crew specifically because they didn’t know the sport. Anyone familiar with marathon swimming would have shouted at her to get away from the boat as she approached. They would have known that the swim ended the moment Diana grabbed the gunwale. See “Disqualified.”

Lacerations & Tears (rhymes with “ears”)

And two hours from shore, I asked Bonnie and Bartlett to bring our whole flotilla, 44 people, in a semi-circle. I had tremendous lacerations all on the inside of the mouth from the mask and the sudden sea exposure and so it wasn’t easy talking for me.

But I said to them, “I guess I’m going to stumble up on that beach pretty soon. And somebody’s gonna take my picture. But don’t you ever forget my team, because I will never forget you. We did this together. We made history together.

Diana got weepy during that last bit, or at least she sounded that way. Her voice deepened, becoming almost a bray. Many good people had dedicated months, years, even decades to help the greatest marathon swimmer on earth succeed. Diana wanted us to know that such devotion moved her to tears.

Thankfully, her aquatic thank you speech remains extant. Here’s Diana after 50 hours of ostensible swimming:

Now watch Nyad come ashore two hours later. Note how she removes her goggles and cap before leaving the water. She wants to look good for the media, ready for her next oration. She glances right, presumably at a camera. She even appears to be motioning people away—you know, to keep from being touched and therefore disqualified.

Now take a look at these clips from the finishes of two other swims. Penny Palfrey and Sarah Thomas had just swum 40 and 54 hours, respectively. Could they have given a Nyad-like speech two hours earlier? I doubt it. As they left the water, were Palfrey or Thomas thinking about how they looked or what they’d say? No—both of them appear to have precisely the same thing in mind: get onto dry land, sit down, don’t move another inch.

Thomas and Palfrey both look and act like people who just swam an inhumanly long way. Nyad, not so much.

WARNING

Diana restated her abuse allegations at the Ebell, so an examination of them follows. Those allegations are as fictional as her Manhattan claims or her best-of-the-seventies claims or her jellyfish claims. If you’d rather not read about such things, though, I want to thank you for having ridden this far.

Location, Location, Location

Nyad’s false allegations of sexual abuse are abhorrent, and I’d rather not talk about them. I have to confess, though, that I was curious. If she made the allegations at the Ebell, which version would she use? Would she use the new one from the corrected op-ed, or would she return to the story she tells in the original op-ed and Find a Way?

In both versions, Nyad is 14 years old, and the alleged attack takes place at her coach’s home. The fundamental difference between the two versions is the location of the meet during which the attack takes place. In Find a Way and the original op-ed, it occurs when her school hosts the state championships. (In a previous post, I showed how that would have been impossible. Gainseville, 300 miles from Fort Lauderdale, hosted the state championships that year.)  In the new version of the op-ed, Nyad alleges that the attack occurred “on the day of a swim meet.”

At the Ebell, Nyad split the difference. “Age 14,” she said, “there was a big meet in our home town.” So it was no run-of-the-mill swim meet, but neither was it the state championships.

Two events fit the bill:

  1. The Broward County Championships at Stranahan High School on April 25, 1964.
  2. The Florida Gold Coast AAU Senior Championships at Fort Lauderdale’s old Casino Pool on August 14, 1964.

Nyad continued:

I hadn’t lost in the 100 meter backstroke in the state of Florida for two years.

In all of the meets for which I’ve been able to find results, Nyad hadn’t won a 100 backstroke up until she came in first at the state championships in Gainesville. She got 2nd at Stranahan in April, then won–for the first time—at the Gainesville meet. She won again at the Casino Pool.[1]

In other words, her history of wins and losses unfolded in the opposite way she says it did:

I lost that night…. I went to the bottom of the diving well, seventeen feet underwater, and I screamed….

Neither Stranahan nor the Casino pool had a diving well.

In other words, Diana Nyad’s abuse story is utter bullshit.

If you still have any doubt that she uses her abuse allegations for self-aggrandizement, please consider these two statements:

    • “I’m working with Reese Witherspoon on the Time’s Up campaign.”
    • “I’m trying to be involved with the National Archive of Sexual Abuse in Washington—terrific people like Reese Witherspoon are helping to fund it….”

Yes, Diana Nyad must really like Reese Witherspoon, whom you’ll have no trouble finding on the Time’s Up website. You’ll find no mention, however, of Diana Nyad.  And the National Archive of Sexual Abuse (NASA) exists only in Nyad’s imagination—where she is, of course, Survivor #1.[2]

Clip from the 20 Nov 2017 episode of the Slate sports podcast, “Hang Up and Listen.”


NOTES

1. Below are all the “big meet” backstroke results that I’ve pieced together through 1964:

23 Feb 63 FLSA Invitational (Fort Lauderdale) 3rd (110 yd.)
13 Apr 63 Florida Gold Coast Senior Short Course Championships (Pompano Beach) 4th (200 yd.)
4 May 63 State Class A Swimming Championships (Gainesville) Did not compete in a backstroke event
27 Jul 63 Florida Gold Coast AAU Senior Championships (Fort Lauderdale) 6th (110 yd. back)
2nd (220 yd. back)
25 Apr 64 Broward County Championships
(Stranahan, Ft. Lauderdale)
2nd (100 yd.)
2 May 64 State Class A Swimming Championships (Gainesville) 1st (100 yd.)
14 Aug 64 Florida Gold Coast AAU Senior Championships
(Casino Pool, Ft. Lauderdale)
1st (110 yd.)

For a more detailed list, please see this spreadsheet.

I want to give Diana the last word on her early swims. The following comes from an interview she gave sometime during the year prior to her Cuba-Florida success. Note that Nyad does not correct the interviewer when she erroneously attributes to three state championships to her Diana.

THE BELIEVER: You grew up in Florida, and were a swimmer from an early age. In fact, you won three Florida state championships in high school. I can relate to this—training and competing from before puberty, in my case—though I was never quite that accomplished. How intensively did you train at that age, as a teenager and even earlier?

DIANA NYAD: 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. My coach sexually molested me as a teenager. Swimming did not define who I was as much as my personality and goals did. I am not some little “age- group swimmer” who has discovered the sport. I have no memories or attachment to it in that sense.

—from “An Interview with Diana Nyad,” The Believer, 1 Jan 2013

RETURN

2. Speaking of imagination:

And now, at age 70, I’m looking across at new horizons. And I’m asking myself once again: What is it I plan to do with this one wild and precious life.

That’s our cue. Together now: “What the fuck is she up to now?”

Well, she has a plan, and it’s a doozie. It involves getting “thousands, maybe 10,000 swimmers—not in a race, it’s not about swimming, it’s about the wonderful ocean—to swim from Miami to Manhattan.” Richard Branson’s in there, though he didn’t know it at the time. Branson’s ship—Cruise ship? Yacht? I’m gonna have to give him a call and see what he’s got—will play a pivotal role. It’ll be…

…the central ship of this trip up so that, from the coast, you could come out if you were a swimmer, a media person, a lecturer. We’ve invited Sylvia Earle, Al Gore, all kinds of people. They would be able to come out quickly from any point of Florida, the Carolinas, D.C., Maryland—you know, all the way up….

Get ready—it’s goin’ [all the way] up tonight!

RETURN

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