Up until a few weeks ago, 2007 was the earliest I’d found Diana Nyad claiming to be the first woman to swim around Manhattan (see The Score, 21 June 2007). I assumed, then, that Nyad waited for her six predecessors to pass away before leapfrogging to the front. The last-living of those six swimmers, Diane Struble, died in 2006. Continue reading →
Bonnie grabbed my shoulders…. She looked in my eyes, and she said, “Let’s find a way.”
And I took the leap. And we found our way. – Diana Nyad, Generation Bold, 18 Nov 2018, 4:51
To guarantee the success of her Cuba-Florida swim, Diana Nyad needed to construct a system that, ideally, would:
Overcome unfavorable currents at any time of the day or night.
Be easy to deploy and remove.
Be invisible—not only to outsiders (the press, curious boaters, etc.) but also to members of her team, most of whom would not be in on the plan.
Whatever method she settled on, she didn’t use it in previous attempts. She probably had not envisioned it yet, still dreaming that she could make the swim under her own power.
In the year leading up to the 2013 attempt, Nyad’s guide boat, Voyager, accompanied her during long practice swims. Again, whatever method she decided on, she had plenty of time during those swims to develop and test her system.
In her first memoir, Other Shores, Diana Nyad lists the rules of a 1975 race in Argentina:
The swimmer must wear only regulation suit, cap, goggles and grease. The swimmer must swim to the side of his boat, not behind it. (Greta Andersen was once passed in a race in the Nile by an Egyptian with a wide grin on his face; he had a tight grip on a rope tied to the back of his boat, and was eating a banana.) The swimmer may not at any time touch the boat, the shore or another person. (p. 35)
The boom Nyad used for her directional streamer gave her an artificial stern. Swimming behind it allowed her to break the rule without breaking the rule, no banana required.
Diana Nyad did not, in my not-so-humble opinion, swim from Cuba to Florida under her own power. In the next three posts, I’ll describe—and give evidence for—my theory of how she made it look like she did.
Starting with the rules laid down in my house when I was a child, I have never much respected society’s expected standards…. When some television executive tells me the story I’m working on has to have a linear structure and start at the beginning, I revolt and take my case to the highest command, arguing that to embark on this particular story in the middle and work the early part in later hits the sublime emotion of it. Ask Shakespeare about in medias res.
Diana Nyad is well into the second night of her fifth and final attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. She has made miraculous progress over the last two days, often moving at speeds more than double and sometimes triple her usual 1.5-2 miles per hour. At 9 p.m. on Sunday night, she’s chugging along at about three miles per hour—with the ostensible help of a strong current flowing northeast. Continue reading →
I have a theory about how Diana may have caught a ride during her Cuba-Florida crossing. Over the next month or so, I’ll make a case in support of that theory. Before that happens, though, we need to catch up on some currents.
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 in particular) misappropriate and befoul her words. Continue reading →
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)