The Journey: Diana Nyad, Mary Oliver, and Me

That’s Ruby on the left. Mary Oliver loved dogs, and this post needed a photo. I have no how Oliver felt about barbecue sauce.

The poet Mary Oliver died on Thursday. I almost hate to admit how much I like her work—not because she isn’t all morose and difficult like poets are supposed to be, but because some people (well, one person in particular) misappropriate and befoul her words.
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Nyad, Episode 2 — The Relinquisher

Nyad says that she “relinquished my position as screenwriter of my life story.” Of her Manhattan swim, she once said, “I hereby relinquish my title as the first woman.” But you can’t relinquish something that you don’t have.

I was so diverted by Nyad’s cinematic machinations in the last post that I missed something important. When Diana finally tells us that she’s not writing the screenplay for Nyad: The Motion Picture, she declares:

I relinquished my position as screenwriter of my life story. (Sung, “Diana Nyad…” )

When she got caught in her Manhattan lie back in 2011, she used the same verb:

I hereby relinquish my title as the first woman. (Nyad via the Wayback Machine)

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Nyad: The Motion Picture

For over forty years, Diana Nyad has longed for a biopic devoted to her favorite subject, Diana Nyad.* We know this because, during those forty years, she has made a number of pronouncements about just such an epic.

Another thing we know: the last post ended with “Up next: Not all is lost.”

It’s still true that not all is lost, but this other film-related subject caught my attention. I’ll do my best to return us to our home planet in the next post.

Meanwhile, back at the Annex…

Below is a chronological list—lightly and snarkily annotated—of all of Nyad’s biopic-related pronouncements that I know of. Please let me know if you’ve come across others.
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Diana’s Disappearing Ink

The first pattern that emerged from the “110 Miles…” discussion on the Marathon Swimmers Forum was Diana Nyad’s policy of active un-engagement.

Don’t Rock the Boat

Diana and/or her handlers must have calculated that their craft already rode so low in the water that any movement might swamp it. So Diana either does not engage with skeptics; or, when she momentarily forgets herself and does engage, she quickly erases the evidence, pretends nothing happened, and hopes that the boat stops rocking.

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New York Herald Tribune Archive Holds Nyad-related Gems

Giving Aris Nyad the benefit of the doubt leads to Herald Tribune treasures.

“Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 2” included a link to a 1942 Montreal Gazette article, “Young Greek Flier Held in New York Jail.” That flier was “a handsome, aristocratic-looking young fellow” named Aristotle Nyad. According to the article, Mr. Nyad…

…had with him a clipping from the New York Tribune giving an interview as one of the many young Greeks who had stormed their consulate in New York when Greece was invaded, hoping they could get back so they could fight for their country.

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¡Adelante!

A re-reading of “110 miles, 53 hours: Questions for Diana Nyad” sends the Annex swimming off in a new direction.

¡Feliz año nuevo!

“G Is For Gato,” by Dora Hathazi Mendes. Via Karavella Atelier.

I love the sound of Spanish, the music of it, the way so many words end by flowing out of vowels rather than by crashing into consonants: gato vs. cat, for instance, or perro vs. dog, calle vs. street, etc.

I don’t know enough Spanish, though, to converse in it beyond the level of un niño who has just turned three.

do know a thing or two about Diana Nyad.  She is a con artist and a fraud, and she will lie about anything. The last two Annex posts leave no doubt about that.

So just one task remains: proving that Nyad did not swim all the way from Cuba to Florida under her own power.
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Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 2

In her Holocaust survivor’s tale, Diana Nyad projects onto a fictional child the story of her own worst year. The tale, then, is not a complete fabrication; it’s a psychologically true story reflected in a distorted mirror.

part 1 | part 2

When Diana Nyad tells stories about traumatized children, those children are always three-year-old girls:

This woman told me a story that I’ve heard many times before. Her father began molesting her when she was 3. (NY Times, 11 Nov 2017)

It’s harrowing to hear these tales of a girl who was three years old molested by her father then her grandfather. (Facebook Live, 17 Nov 2017)

She became the little concubine of the SS officers. Oral sex, anal sex, intercourse. At age three, she was forced to perform these heinous acts many times a day. (Find a Way, 135)

Never two, never four or five or six—the little girl is always three. That’s no coincidence.
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Diana Nyad’s Unspeakable Lie, part 1

Diana Nyad often tells the story of meeting a Holocaust survivor who underwent horrifying sexual abuse during World War II. Nyad fabricated the whole thing.

part 1 | part 2

Please understand that I am not questioning whether or not sexual abuse occurred during the Holocaust. It did, and it was probably much worse than I could ever imagine. I am, however, questioning the facts of one particular story, the one Diana Nyad invented and now exploits for her own benefit. 

The following paragraph summarizes Nyad’s story. It includes details common to most or all of the six versions I’m familiar with:

At dinner after one of her talks, Nyad meets an elderly woman (never named) who is originally from Krakow, Poland. Nyad identifies the woman as a survivor because she has numbers tattooed on her arm. The woman tells Nyad her story: When she was three years old, the Gestapo came to her home in Krakow, killed her father, and forced her, her mother, and her six-year-old sister onto a train to Dachau. At Dachau, they were separated. The mother and sister went to the right, the three-year-old went to the left and never saw her family again. The Nazis then sent the three-year-old girl to serve as a sex slave to the camp’s SS officers. At war’s end, a French family adopts the little girl. She goes on to live a life seemingly unaffected by her trauma.

(This spreadsheet provides links to all six versions and highlights differences between them.)

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Over the last month, I’ve struggled to write about Nyad’s story. Then I received a message from Dr. Barbara Distel, former director of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Her email contains just about everything you need to know about Nyad’s tale. By permission of Dr. Distel, here are the pertinent parts (lightly edited for readability):

1. Dachau was a concentration camp for men only, there were never families or mothers with children. Jewish families in Poland were sent to Ghettos and from there to the death camps, or directly to the death camps in Poland, never to Germany. The description [Nyad gives] refers to Auschwitz. The way she tells it is completely fictional. [my emphasis]
 
During the last years (1943-1945), a large number of subsidiary
camps were established where Dachau prisoners worked mostly for the German armament industry. There were some subsidiary camps and work detachments where also women prisoners worked. Shortly before the liberation on April 29, 1945, there were about 67,000 inmates in Dachau and its subsidiary camps, 4,600 of them were women (4,000 Jewish women). There were a number of babies who had been born shortly before the liberation.
 
2. There were no three-year-old children in Dachau. [Unlike] Buchenwald concentration camp, there was no children’s barrack in Dachau. 

I have never heard of sexual abuse of children in Dachau concentration camp.

(Complete email exchange here.)

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“Diana Nyad Self Made Story” repost

What follows is a lightly edited version of a recent Facebook post. That version did not meet the high visual standards that the Annex demands (i.e. it looked really ugly), hence its reappearance here.

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“Meet Diana Nyad: Epic Adventurer Who Refuses To Accept Defeat” (Self Made)

Have I mentioned that Diana Nyad occasionally stretches the truth? She gave it a real workout in this recent interview with Nely Galán. Below the video, you will find an accounting of Nyad’s Self Made fictions.


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Early Manhattan Women Swimmers on Film

As part of the festivities surrounding the 5th anniversary of Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida crossing, this open letter to the most reputable historians revisits one of Nyad’s biggest lies.

15 September 2018

Dear Reputable Historians,

You’ll recall that, back in 2011, CNN caught Diana Nyad lying about being the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island. In response, Ms. Nyad posted (then deleted) a disingenuous non-mea-culpa. You can still find it here.

An excerpt:

The history is unclear. The dissemination of accurate information has not followed an empirical path. I am waiting for the most reputable historians of the sport to dig further and publish their research as to their collective best versions as to who did in fact circle Manhattan, when and how.

Still from “Swim around Manhattan–outtakes” (via MIRC) showing Anne Priller Benoit joking with an unidentified competitor before the start of the 1930 race around Manhattan. Benoit finished 5th overall and 1st among the women.

I write to you, most reputable historians, in the hope that you’ll grab your shovels and resume digging.

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