How a Hacker Made Diana Nyad the Best Marathon Swimmer of the 1970s

Last year, a vandal damaged thousands of Openwaterpedia pages to divert attention away from the sabotage of fifteen specific entries. Once the smoke cleared, Diana Nyad could reasonably claim to be one of the best marathon swimmers of the 1970s.

I became, in the 1970s, the best ocean swimmer in the world. I held every major record on planet earth, out in the open sea.
—Diana Nyad, 7 Oct 2019

While compiling a list of the real best ocean swimmers of the decade, I headed over to Openwaterpedia — “the Wikipedia for the open water swimming world” — looking for more data about listees. I began with Lynne Cox and Tina Bischoff. Cox set English Channel records in 1972 and ’73, Bischoff in ’76. But something was off with their Openwaterpedia entries: they showed Cox and Bischoff swimming the English Channel in the sixties. As a matter of fact, their entries showed neither of them completing a single swim in the 1970s.
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Treasures from the ISHOF Archives and Beyond

Diana Nyad’s fraud flourishes in large part because of the inaccessibility of marathon swimming data. Information about her five years on the pro swimming tour has been particularly hard to find. To try to remedy that, last summer I began working with Malaika Desrameaux, a freelance researcher from South Florida.  Malaika combed through the archives of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, finding more and better material than I could have ever imagined. It was she who unearthed the World Professional Marathon Swimming (WPMSF) bulletins that made it possible to gather much of Nyad’s race information.
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Diana Nyad Spills at Bold Missy Brewery

The Bold Missy Brewery of Charlotte, North Carolina, created a beer to honor Diana Nyad. Something is wrong with this pitcher.

At Bold Missy, they name their brews for inspiring women. Right now, they’ll pour you beers that honor astronaut Sally Ride, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, aviator Amelia Earhart, and mountaineer/explorer Alison Levine.

And they recently added a new one for Diana Nyad:

Later on, I’ll suggest a few alternatives to Find a Way Wheat. First, though, I want to point out some highs and lows from Nyad’s recent appearance with Levine at Bold Missy. The highs all came, by the way, via Levine, whose integrity and authenticity provided an uplifting counterpoint to Nyad’s narcissism and deceit.
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Extraordinary Proof: David Walsh, Lance, and Diana

From the moment Lance Armstrong began his post-cancer comeback, journalist David Walsh knew something wasn’t right. In 2016, he condensed his twelve-year pursuit of Armstrong into a 20-minute story for The Moth. He inadvertently tells Diana’s story too.

While most of the world reveled in Lance Armstrong’s miraculous return to cycling, Walsh asked himself, “How could it be that a man is transformed into a super champion by a two-year illness?”

We could ask the same of Diana: How could it be that a woman is transformed into a super champion by aging more than three decades?

As a matter of fact, just change the name and a few details, and Walsh’s Armstrong story is Nyad’s. Below are a few more examples from “Extraordinary Proof.”
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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.

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Nyad at the Ebell, part 1: The Best on Planet Earth

In a talk earlier this month, Diana Nyad declared that, in the 1970s, she “held all the major records on planet Earth.” With those words, she swept under the carpet all the genuinely great swimmers of that decade.

On Monday, October 7, 2019, Diana Nyad spoke at the Ebell Club of Los Angeles for its 125th Anniversary Opening Day Lunch. “Come and meet this extraordinary woman,” reads the Ebell site,

…and hear her story. On the 125th Anniversary of the Ebell, the courage, determination and resilience of Diana Nyad are an inspiration to us all. (Ebell of L.A.)

My son Noah and I attended. Afterward, I tried to write something about the event. Only after finishing, though, did I realize what I’d been writing about. After that realization, the tone felt inappropriate. I couldn’t bring myself, however, to scrap the whole thing, hence the following preamble.

PREAMBLE

The crux of Nyad’s presentation—as it is with much of her writing and public speaking—was her attempt to erase from history many of the great women swimmers of the past.
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Anatomy of a 1978 Nyad Press Release

A press release Diana Nyad issued just before her first Cuba-Florida attempt confirms her breathtakingly flexible approach to the truth.

Just before her first Cuba-Florida attempt, Diana Nyad and her PR firm, the Kalmus Corporation, sent out a press release in the hopes of rounding up some sponsors.

Nyad wanted potential backers to know that she was one of the greatest marathon swimmers on the planet. You can imagine, then, that she and her PR crew had to lie through their teeth get creative. And that’s just what they did.
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Ratification Infestation: Notes on WOWSA’s Retroactive Recognition of Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida Crossing

On August 14, 2019, almost six years after Diana Nyad walked ashore on Smathers Beach, the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) retroactively ratified Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida crossing. The actual change is meaningless, but the way it occurred has too many juicy bits to ignore.

Notification of the swim’s ratification arrived in the form of a late-night edit [1]  to part of Diana Nyad’s Openwaterpedia entry. Before the edit, it read:

Most of the questions raised by experienced marathon swimmers worldwide remain unanswered. As of 2019, the swim has not been ratified or authenticated by any official swimming governing body.

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“New Evidence…” Addendum: The Barnard Bulletin

In her New York Times op-ed, Diana Nyad declares, “I’ve been speaking out, loud and strong, for nearly five decades now.” That’s true. What she’s been speaking out loud and strong about, however, is a different story.

In 1976, Nyad coached the Barnard College swim team. That year, Barnard student Jean Anne Kiewel interviewed Diana for the Barnard Bulletin. According to Kiewel, Nyad said that she “started swimming in California and moved to Florida when her coach did.” (“Barnard’s Water Nymph: the Nyad Mystique,” 2 Feb 1976)

Following her coach from one coast to another would mean that swimming was so important to her, and that she was so good at it, that her family would uproot itself and travel across a continent to support her endeavors.
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New Evidence that Diana Nyad Fabricated Her Abuse Story

Just over a year ago, the New York Times issued a correction to an op-ed in which Diana Nyad accuses her high school swim coach, Jack Nelson, of sexual abuse:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described an event associated with the initial assault on the author. It was a swim meet, not the state swimming championships.

The change gave the illusion that The Times had cleaned up Nyad’s mess. “We published a thorough correction,” editor Alicia Wittmeyer told journalist Irv Muchnick, “and don’t plan to comment beyond it.”

But the correction was far from thorough, leaving most of Nyad’s fabrications intact.
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