Holiday Special: How Diana Nyad Overcooked Her “Family Thanksgiving”

Nyad almost made it through an entire article without lying. For Diana, though, truth is never enough.

Last Wednesday, Diana tweeted about the joyous Thanksgiving she spent in Connecticut with her partner Bonnie’s family:

I  saw the tweet 40 minutes after Nyad posted it. Too late — she had already deleted the article. (The original tweet remains as of this writing.)

I can think of a few reasons why she might have removed her piece on Wednesday. One possibility: she thought better of posting about Thanksgiving before it happened. Another: she felt her article lacked a certain je ne sais quoi typical of the rest of her handiwork. If so, she added that the next day.

Nyad’s Thursday repost of “Family Thanksgiving” has three distinct parts: first, a two-paragraph appetizer about her less-than-desirable childhood Thanksgivings. Second, the main dish: a description of her time with Bonnie’s family. This section concludes with, “it’s been 42 years now that Bonnie and her kin have treated me as one of their cherished own.” A gorgeous ending, so I wonder if the Wednesday version stopped there.

But the Thursday version doesn’t. In what feels like a late addition, Nyad adds dessert, returning to Manhattan in the penultimate paragraph:

And, by the way, I remember my first couple of Thanksgivings in NYC when a young graduate student, not invited to any Thanksgiving dinner.

Nyad only spent one year in graduate school. She may have spent that Thanksgiving alone, but I doubt it. It’s as if she couldn’t bring herself to publish something without at least one lie or exaggeration, along with some trauma ripe for conquest, some reason for her fans to pity and praise her.

Nyad would have begun her second year of grad school in fall 1974. The World Professional Marathon Swimming Association (WPMSF) named her their Women’s World Champion that November. In anticipation of the backlash — Nyad took the crown because she swam in more races and garnered more points than Sandra Bucha, the marvel who consistently whooped her — Nyad began sending chummy letters to WPMSF president Dennis Matuch. Nyad knew that the task of defending the organization’s choice of champion would fall to him.

Detail from Canadian marathon standings, 21 August 1974.

On November 9, 1974, Nyad writes Matuch:

I am taking a last few days in the sea and sun of the Canary Islands and preparing to go back to school, work, the energy of New York City and the warmth of a lover’s bed. (original/transcript)

Maybe I’m missing something, but if it’s November 9, Nyad has already overshot the start of school.

Later that month, Nyad writes Matuch again:

Play time is over. Working translating for NYU Press, doing some incompletes before school begins again. (original/transcript)

Those incompletes may be the closest thing we ever get to an admission that all wasn’t hunky-dory at NYU. And lovers often share both beds and turkey, so I’d lay odds that Thanksgiving wasn’t a solo endeavor.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: