5 Highlights From Diana Nyad’s No Barriers Interview

Last month, Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest, interviewed Diana Nyad, the only person to call the Florida Straits “the Mt. Everest of marathon swimming.” Nyad once again kicked truth off the trail on her way to summiting another mountain of lies.

Image detail via No Barriers podcast page.

From a revised version of her marathon swimming origin story to a new tale about her paternity and the Hellenic Hall of Fame, Diana proved again that she’ll never let veracity get in the way of a good story. Here are the highlights:

1. She fabricated a detailed account of her introduction to open water swimming

Diana learned about professional open water swimming from Buck Dawson, the founding director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF). He trained her and arranged for her to enter her first pro race in July 1970.

Nothing wrong with that story, but the truth is never enough for Nyad. So, she moves the start date up a few years while dumping Dawson in favor of an awestruck chum:

NYAD: I was swimming in a pool in New York City when I was going to graduate school there, and a friend who was in grad school with me stopped me and said, “Oh my God, you’ve got such a smooth, beautiful stroke, and I know you’ve got this fire. You can’t go back to sprint swimming. You did your best at that, and that’s over. But did you know it is a blue planet, and there are people who stand at the edge of rivers, lakes, and oceans every weekend, and a gun goes off, and they all race to the other side?” He said, “You’d be great at that.”

WEIHENMAYER: Isn’t that beautiful that somebody told you that? That’s so great that person came into your life at that point. That’s amazing.

NYAD: It was so great. It was such an awakening. (44:12)

It would have been beautiful and amazing if it had happened, but it didn’t. When Nyad entered graduate school in 1973, she had already been racing in open water for three years. Buck Dawson helped run a summer camp in Ontario, Canada, and Nyad worked there as a counselor in 1970. Dawson came to see Nyad as a way “to re-inject some glamour” into that summer’s pro racing season and beyond.

This isn’t the first time Nyad has told this lie—for example, you can watch her tell it in this 2019 presentation. But her No Barriers version may be her most elaborate. And the great awakening is a nice touch.

(Nyad gives a more accurate rendering in the 1975 article, “Diana’s Big Splash In The Big Apple.” The story hadn’t had as much time to undergo the inevitable drift away from the truth.)

2. She mentioned a performance of her play, The Swimmer, that never happened

Weihenmayer asks Nyad about The Swimmer, the “one-woman play” she performed Off-Broadway in the fall of 2019. Bonnie Stoll was in it, too, but Nyad doesn’t correct him. Instead, she says:

Yeah, I did that off Broadway, and it had pretty nice reviews. So, I just did another one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (46:47)

I’ve found no evidence that Nyad reprised The Swimmer in Santa Fe or anywhere else after her New York shows. Nyad did present a “StoryTelling Evening at the Santa Fe Playhouse” as part of a 5-day EverWalk event in  April.

As for reviews, Nyad received positive feedback from four audience members via Ticketmaster’s site (click on “Reviews”). She received no other write-ups—unless you consider the one she invented: A few days after her last performance, she told a Los Angeles audience that “The New York Times gave us a glowing review.”

Emma Brockes wrote some kind words about The Swimmer in her piece, “Hillary Clinton says when life’s tough, ‘keep going’. I’m not so sure” (The Guardian, 3 Oct 2019), but that’s the closest any journalist or critic came to covering Nyad’s theatrical escapade.

3. She added a new species to her jellyfish story

Nobody dies by a sting from the Portuguese man of war. People die from the box jellyfish. (18:17)

People do die from Portuguese man o’ war stings. However, Diana doesn’t want her beloved box jellies sharing the killer-jelly spotlight. If they did, Diana’s epicness quotient might drop.

Not that box jellies are anywhere near as lethal as Diana claims:

Many people have died within one minute of one sting, one tentacle. (18:38)

No, “many” of them haven’t, but Diana desperately wants you to think they have. Box jellies have stung thousands upon thousands of people. A small fraction of them died. An even smaller fraction within one minute.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say I should have died that night. (18:50)

Yeah, it’s hyperbole. Given the proximity of medical help and Diana’s self-declared fitness level, the odds that she would die hovered right around zero.

Most people don’t live. And most people don’t live long. I’m lucky I lived through it. (38:26)

Diana really has it in for these poor creatures, but they are not alone . . .

4. She made it clear that she plans to use her biopic to take down Jack Nelson

Nyad plans to use Nyadthe upcoming film adaptation of her falsehood-filled memoir, Find A Way—as leverage to complete some pet projects.  These include erecting a statue of herself in Key West and removing her first swim coach, Jack Nelson, from Fort Lauderdale’s International Swimming Hall of Fame.

That guy, that coach who abused me for all those years of my high school years—and others, by the way, I wasn’t the only one—he is in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. I hope when this movie comes out . . . You’ve alluded to the feature film that’s getting done right now. I hope that that moment of my having a moment of respect and being out in the world again for just a moment is going to lead some feminists and men, like yourself, who respect women toward getting that guy out of the Hall of Fame. Has nothing to do with me being in the Hall of Fame. (48:58)

Good thing she’s not, then.

Nyad implies that any man who doesn’t believe her doesn’t respect women. Yet, her conflicting and contradictory abuse allegations make it impossible to take them seriously. What’s more, she has never provided a shred of corroborating evidence.  All we have are Nyad’s own wildly inconsistent and sometimes absurd statements. But inconsistency and absurdity have never stopped Diana.

Jack Nelson is Nyad’s human box jelly. She blames him for causing her immense pain, likely the psychological pain of not qualifying for the Olympic trials and the Olympics. “I haven’t come close to my potential in marathon swimming yet,” she told Sports Illustrated in 1971, “but I’d trade all of what I’m going to be for an Olympic gold medal.”

Jack Nelson and box jellyfish hurt her, so she wants to hurt them back—no matter how many lies it takes.

5. She added to her repertoire of paternity lies

When I was 48 and [Aris] Nyad died, my mother told me that he was not actually my birth father. (1:01:25)

Not even close. Diana knew Aris was her stepfather by the time she turned 22, though probably much earlier. Aris died in 1995. Diana was, in fact, 48. But 24 years earlier, she told Sports Illustrated about her biopop, William Sneed:

“Mr. Sneed,” she calls her father, a man she never knew. Her parents were divorced when she was three, and soon afterward her mother married a wealthy Greek land developer named Aristotle Zason Nyad, but that marriage ended, too, about the time Jack Nelson came along. (6 Dec 1971)

I’d wager, though, that she always knew Aris was her stepfather. Clippings from 1953 and 1954 list her as “Diana Sneed.” She would have been between four and five, possibly old enough to understand what it meant to have a different surname than Aris.

Further, Diana claims that, in 1995, when she ostensibly learned Aris was her stepfather, she had to do the honorable thing and inform the Hellenic Hall of Fame:

I had to call them to tell them I don’t have a drop of Greek blood. They said they were having trouble finding Greeks, anyway, to induct, and I grew up thinking that that was my heritage and thinking that that was my Greek father, so they let me stay in the Hellenic Hall of Fame. (1:01:36)

Nyad is in the Hellenic Hall of Fame (scroll down), but everything else in that excerpt is nonsense. The Hellenic Hall of Fame didn’t induct Diana until 1999, four years after Aris died. Either Diana lied to them about her non-Greek heritage, or she told them, and they didn’t care.

Either way, in her No Barriers interview, Nyad proved again that she is a big fat, non-Greek liar.

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