August 22, 1949
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Lake Forest College (1973)|
|Occupation||Author, journalist, swimmer|
|Known for||Championship swimming; endurance swimming; journalism; motivational speaking|
Diana Nyad // (born Diana Sneed; August 22, 1949) is an American author, journalist, motivational speaker, and world record long-distance swimmer. Nyad gained national attention in 1975 when she swam around Manhattan (28 mi or 45 km) and in 1979 when she swam from North Bimini, The Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida (102 mi (164 km)). In 2013, on her fifth attempt and at age 64, she became the first person confirmed to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage, swimming from Havana to Key West (110 mi or 180 km). Nyad was once ranked thirteenth among U.S. women squash players.
Early life and education
Nyad was born in New York City on August 22, 1949, to stockbroker William Sneed and his wife Lucy Curtis. Her father died when she was an infant and when Diana was three her mother married Aristotle Nyad, a Greek land developer, who adopted Diana. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she began swimming seriously in seventh grade.
She was enrolled at the private Pine Crest School in the mid-1960s, swimming under the tutelage of Olympian and Hall of Fame coach Jack Nelson. She won three Florida state high school championships in the Backstroke at 100 and 200 yards (91 and 183 m). She dreamed of swimming in the 1968 Summer Olympics, but in 1966 she spent three months in bed with endocarditis, an infection of the heart, and when she began swimming again she had lost speed.
After graduating from Pine Crest School in 1967, she entered Emory University, but was eventually expelled for jumping out a fourth-floor dormitory window wearing a parachute. She then enrolled at Lake Forest College in Illinois, where she played tennis for the Foresters and resumed swimming, concentrating on distance events. She soon came to the attention of Buck Dawson, director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, who introduced her to marathon swimming. She began training at his Camp Ak-O-Mak in Ontario, Canada and set a women's world record of 4 hours and 22 minutes in her first race, a 10-mile (16 km) swim in Lake Ontario in July 1970, finishing 10th overall. After graduating from Lake Forest College in 1973, with a degree in English and French, Nyad returned to south Florida to continue training with Dawson.
Nyad has authored three books, Other Shores (Random House: September 1978) about her life and distance swimming, Basic Training for Women (Harmony Books: 1981), and in 1999 she wrote a biography of an NFL wide-receiver Boss of Me: The Keyshawn Johnson Story. She has also written for The New York Times, Newsweek magazine, and other publications. Diana and her best friend Bonnie Stoll (former No. 3 in the world on the Pro Racquetball Tour) have formed a company called BravaBody which is aimed at providing online exercise advice to women over 40, with the two world-class athletes giving direct inspiration and custom-made work-outs. As of 2006, she also delivered motivational talks to groups through the Gold Star speakers agency, for a fee of between $10,000 to $15,000.
Nyad formerly hosted the public radio program "The Savvy Traveler." In addition, she was the subject of a short documentary "Diana" by the digital channel WIGS in 2012. As of 2006, she was a (long-time) weekly contributor to National Public Radio's afternoon news show All Things Considered (appearing on Thursdays), as well as the "business of sport" commentator for American Public Media's public radio program Marketplace business news. She was also a regular contributor to the CBS News television show Sunday Morning. In her 1978 autobiography Nyad described marathon swimming as a battle for survival against a brutal foe—the sea—and the only victory possible is to "touch the other shore."
Nyad was inducted into the United States National Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. She is also an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honoree (1978) and an ISHOF Al Schoenfield Media Award recipient (2002). She is a Hall of Famer at both her college, Lake Forest College in Illinois and at her high school, Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.
An independently produced documentary film, The Other Shore, was released in early 2013, some months before Nyad's first successful swim from Cuba to Florida.
Over two days in 1979, Nyad swam from Bimini to Florida, setting a distance record for non-stop swimming without a wetsuit that still stands today. She broke numerous world records, including the 45-year-old mark for circling Manhattan Island (7 hrs, 57 min) in 1975.
- 1974: In June 1974, Nyad set a women's record of 8 hours, 11 minutes in the 22-mile (35 km) Bay of Naples race.
- 1975: At age 26, Nyad made national headlines by swimming 28 miles (45 km) around the island of Manhattan (New York City) in just under 8 hours (7 hours 57 minutes.) An account of her swim, published the next day, stated Nyad was "5 feet six inches tall" (1.7 m) and weighed 128 pounds (58 kg).
- 1978: At age 28 she first attempted to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, one year after the Kennedy-era travel restrictions were lifted. Diving into the ocean at 2PM on Sunday August 13 from Ortegosa Beach (50 miles (80 km) west of Havana), she swam inside a 20 × 40-foot (6 × 12 m) steel shark cage for nearly 42 hours, before team doctors removed her during the 7 o'clock hour on the morning of Tuesday August 15 due to strong Westerly winds and 8-foot (2.4 m) swells that were slamming her against the cage and pushing her off-course towards Texas. She had covered about 76 miles (122 km), but not in a straight line.
- 1979: In what was to be her last "competitive" swim on her 30th birthday (August 21–22, 1979), she set a world record for distance swimming (both men and women) over open water by swimming 102 miles (164 km) from North Bimini Island, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida (without the use of protective shark cage). Thanks to favorable winds and a following sea she averaged 3.7 miles per hour (6.0 km/h) and completed the swim in 27 and one-half hours.
Several experts who attended the 2011 Global Open Water Swimming Conference in New York City on June 17–19, 2011 expressed their strong belief that Nyad had both the physical ability and, more importantly, the positive mental stamina to be able to complete the Cuba-to-Florida swim: sports physiology studies have shown that in "extreme" marathon-type activities mental determination is a more important factor than the physical energy of youth.
Cuba to Florida swim attempts in 2011-2013
By early January 2010 Nyad determined to begin working out for a summer attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. Taking up residence in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, from January through June she began doing 8-, 10-, 12- and 14-hour swims every other week. Then she moved her training to Key West and, while waiting for favorable weather conditions she embarked on a 24-hour swim. On July 10 she chartered a 35-foot fishing vessel to take her 40 miles (64 km) out to sea. At 8:19 AM she jumped overboard and began swimming back towards Key West, with the boat following her. At 8:19 AM the next day her handlers helped her back on board, still about 10 miles (16 km) from land: she said she felt "tired and dehydrated" but still "strong" and "easily able to swim another 20 hours without any problem."
On July 10, 2010, at the age of 60, she began open water training for a 60-hour, 103-mile (166 km) swim from Cuba to Florida, a task she had failed to finish thirty years previously. When asked her motivation, she replied, "Because I'd like to prove to the other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams." She was scheduled to make the swim in August/September 2010, but bad weather forced her to cancel; she then planned to do the swim in July 2011. In an October 15, 2010 interview with CNN, Nyad said she was trained and ready to swim by July 23, but a record stretch of high winds and dropping water temperatures prevented her from making the attempt.
While training in St. Maarten, she sat for an interview that was published March 25, 2011 by the island's online news agency, The Daily Herald, remarking that "It's a large operation, like an expedition. We've got about 25 people, navigators, managers, boat crew, weather routers, medical people, shark experts, you name it. That's the time also when the water starts to get to its hottest. I need the hottest possible ocean. As soon as we hit the right forecast, we'll be off to Havana. We won't know the exact starting point probably until the night before. And we don't know exactly where landfall will be...I'd love to wind up in Key West, but it will depend on trajectory of the Gulf Stream." Nyad estimated that the cost of her "expedition" was about $500,000.
Nyad moved her training site from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten to Key West, Florida, in June 2011. She was joined by key members of her support team on June 28, to wait for ideal weather conditions that typically occur only during the summer doldrums in July and August. For the marathon swim to be feasible, two main weather conditions needed to come together at the same time: a combination of low-to-light winds (to minimize sea chop), and water temperatures in the high 80s °F (high 20s/low 30s °C). These relatively "high" water temperatures produce a twin challenge: in the first half of her swim the warm water will dehydrate her body, while in the second half her body temperature will drop and she will face potential hypothermia. Nyad had bulked up her physique to about 150 pounds/70 kg (15 pounds/7 kg more than she weighed in 2010) to help counter the loss of body mass during her grueling swim.
To keep Nyad swimming in a straight line, her specially designed, slow-moving catamaran support boat deployed a 10-foot (3.0 m) streamer: a long pole keeps the streamer several yards away from the boat, and the streamer is designed to remain about 5 feet underwater, so that Nyad can swim above it, much like following a lane line in a swimming pool. At night, the white streamer was replaced by a string of red LED lights. Writing in her blog in July 2011, Nyad stated that the development of the submerged guide streamer, in early summer 2011, may be the single greatest aid to her marathon swim. In all of her previous swims, she had trouble keeping the support boat in sight and was prone to veer off-course. Keeping a boat headed in a straight line, in the ocean, while moving at only 1 to 2 knots is very difficult, and her catamaran is equipped with thrusters and a special sea anchor (in case of following seas) to stabilize its course.
Some 33 years after her first attempt in 1978, Nyad entered the water again at Havana on August 7, 2011 at 7:45PM, a CNN news team on board her support ship to provide live coverage of her swim, which involved electronic "Shark Shields" but no shark cage. Nyad stopped her attempt early in the morning on August 9 at 12:45AM after 29 hours in the water, after encountering strong currents and winds that pushed her miles off course to the east. Nyad also said she had been suffering shoulder pain since her third hour in the water, but what made her abandon the effort was a flare-up of her asthma, such that, throughout the final hour, she could only swim a few strokes before repeatedly having to roll on her back to catch her breath.
On September 23, 2011, Nyad began a third attempt at the Cuba-to-Florida swim, again without a shark cage, but had to stop after about 41 hours, about 67 nautical miles (124 km) through the 103 nautical miles (191 km) passage, because of jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings and after currents pushed her off course. Nyad's October 2011 TED talk described how box jellyfish stings on her forearm and neck caused respiratory distress that eventually caused the swim to end.
On August 18, 2012, Nyad began her fourth attempt, without a protective shark cage. Nyad and her team ended the swim prematurely at 12:55 a.m. on August 21, 2012, reportedly because of two storms and nine jellyfish stings, after having covered more distance than her three previous attempts.
Successful fifth attempt
On the morning of August 31, 2013, Nyad began her fifth bid to swim from Havana, Cuba to Florida, a distance of about 110 miles (177 km), accompanied by a 35-person support team, swimming without a shark cage but protected from jellyfish by a silicone mask, a full bodysuit, gloves and booties. Before reaching Florida, Nyad broke Penny Palfrey's 2012 distance record for the Cuba to Florida swim,[discuss] putting Nyad closer to Key West than anyone swimming without a shark cage. At approximately 1:55 pm EDT on September 2, 2013, Nyad reached the beach in Key West, about 53 hours after she began her journey.
While not directly questioning the authenticity of her story, some skeptics, including long-distance swimmers, requested the swim's GPS history, surface current, weather, and Nyad's eating and drinking data to verify that her swim was not assisted. The swim's published GPS data was analyzed and graphed on September 8 by The New York Times. After Nyad's September 10 response to questions and her publishing path data and notes from her navigator and two observers, a University of Miami oceanography professor confirmed the navigator's assertion that favorable Gulf Stream currents explained Nyad's apparently incredible total velocity during certain portions of the swim. The New York Times' public editor observed on September 19 that the focus had shifted from serious questions about possibly resting aboard a boat, to more technical issues relating to whether her crews' touching her while helping with her protective suit formally rendered the swim an "assisted" swim. Nyad had explained that wearing the jellyfish-protection suit was a life-and-death measure that for her superseded the previous "traditions" of the sport.
Nyad has said a factor in her determination while swimming was her anger about, and her desire to overcome, sexual abuse she said she experienced as a child. Nyad has spoken publicly about this issue.
Nyad is openly lesbian. On July 8, 2011, the U.S. gay sports website CompeteNetwork reported on her plans for the 2011 Cuba-to-Florida swim, writing that "[the] amazing Diana Nyad is a living legend in the swim world, and a role model for the LGBT community..."
Nyad is an atheist.
On September 10, 2013, just a week after she finished her swim, Nyad appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She explained her extensive training. Nyad started her training in the Caribbean in January 2013. Her early workouts consisted of nonstop swimming for 12 hours. She eventually worked her way up to 14 hours, 18, 20, and 24 hours. Nyad also explained what she thinks about while she swims. She reads Stephen Hawking books, she sings, counts numbers and has vivid hallucinations of The Wizard of Oz and the yellow brick road.
From October 8–10, 2013, Nyad participated in "Swim for Relief" by doing a 48-hour continuous swim in New York City's Herald Square. A 120 foot long, two lane pool was installed in Herald Square for the event. It raised funds for AmeriCares. It was to benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy. She raised $105,001.00.
- Duncan, Joyce (2002). "Diana Sneed Nyad". Ahead of Their Time: A Biographical Dictionary of Risk-Taking women. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing. pp. 245–47. ISBN 978-1-280-90869-9. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
- David Edwards (2013-10-14). "Oprah tells atheist swimmer Diana Nyad that atheists don’t believe in ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’". The Raw Story. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Garcia, Anne-Marie (AP contributor) (September 2, 2013). "Diana Nyad completes Cuba-Florida swim". USA Today. Archived from the original on September 3, 2013.
- "Nyad 1st to Swim to Florida From Cuba Without Cage". The New York Times. Associated Press. September 2, 2013. Archived from the original on September 9, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- Alvarez, Lizette (September 2, 2013). "Nyad Completes Cuba-to-Florida Swim". The New York Times.
- "Jack and Diana", Broward-Palm Beach New Times, June 14, 2004. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
- Osinski, Alison. "Diana Nyad, 1949-". Aquatic Consulting Services. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
- High school career and expulsion from Emory described in Nyad's 2002 induction as Al Schoenfield Media Award winner; 
- Thuma, Cynthia A. (2007). "Diana Nyad". Sport Lauderdale: Big Names and Big Games: A Sports Enthusiast's Guide to Broward County, Florida. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 62. ISBN 9781596291454. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
- Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, bio for Diana Nyad; accessed July 18, 2011.[dead link]
- "Say hello to Savvy Traveler host Diana Nyad...". publicradio.org. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
- ""Diana", A WIGS Real documentary now playing!". Diana Nyad. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- Pipkin, James W (2008). Sporting Lives: Metaphor and Myth in American Sports Autobiographies. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. pp. 90–92. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
- "International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame / IMSHOF Honorees / 1978". International Swimming Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on May 3, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013. • "Al Schoenfield Media Award / 2002". International Swimming Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on August 3, 2012. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- HickokSports.com, "Sports Biographies/Swimming: Nyad, Diana". Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- King, Susan (July 18, 2013). "Outfest 2013: Diana Nyad swims to 'The Other Shore'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 8, 2013. Debut was at SXSW in March 2013.
- "Woman Swimmers Circles Manhattan on Her Second Attempt"; published in NYC Swim on October 7, 1975. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: Sports Figures Vol.2, edited by Arnie Markoe (New York:2002)
- "Can Diana Nyad Make from Cuba to Florida?". The Daily News of Open Water Swimming. July 14, 2011.
- Matt Sloane, CNN Medical Producer (October 15, 2010). "Nyad delays attempt to break distance-swim record". Edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- "Diana Nyad: Swimming the Dream". KCRW. July 2010. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- Alvarez, Lizette (July 18, 2011). "Swimming With the Sharks, for 103 Miles". The New York Times. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- "Marathon swimmer poised for Cuba-Florida attempt", The Daily Herald, March 25, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- Source for Nyad's use of SharkShield deployed in escort kayak, is September 3, 2010 blog entry by Diana Nyad, "Steve Munatones will verify the swim"; . Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- Yahoo! Sports, July 15, 2011, "World Record Holder Diana Nyad Set to Conquer Sharks, Distance and Time". Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- Sloane, Matt (August 8, 2011). "Nyad: Today's swim shows 60s not too late for goals". CNN. Archived from the original on September 14, 2013.
- CNN Wire Staff (September 26, 2011). "Jellyfish, currents cut short Cuba-to-Florida swim". CNN.
- Diana Nyad (Oct 2011). "Extreme swimming with the world's most dangerous jellyfish". TED. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
- Schilken, Chuck (August 21, 2012). "Diana Nyad ends her latest attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- "Woman to brave sharks, jellyfish and storms in final Cuba-Florida swim attempt". The Washington Times. August 31, 2013. Archived from the original on September 15, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- "US swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, makes historic Cuba-Florida crossing". BBC News. September 2, 2013. Archived from the original on September 2, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- "Diana Nyad's Cuba to Florida swim breaks one record". CNN. Sep 1, 2013 (updated September 2, 2013). Archived from the original on September 2, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- Marquez, Miguel (CNN video narrator) (September 9, 2013). "Skeptics question Diana Nyad's swim". CNN. Archived from the original on September 10, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- Holpuch, Amanda (2013-09-10). "Skeptics debate the conditions of Diana Nyad's record swim from Cuba". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 10, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
- "A Swimmer’s Path and a Derived Pace". The New York Times. September 8, 2013. Archived from the original on October 8, 2013. Contains graph depicting path and speed based on GPS data provided by Nyad's website developer Chris Moschini.
- "Diana Nyad defends Cuba-to-Florida swim as skeptics question use of gear". The Guardian. Associated Press in Miami. September 11, 2013. Archived from the original on October 18, 2013.
- Sullivan, Margaret (public editor) (September 19, 2013). "With a Swimmer’s Honesty Questioned, The Times Should Follow Up". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 18, 2013.
- "The Swimmer | Out Magazine". Out.com. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- Ashley Harrell (2007-06-14). "Jack and Diana - Page 1 - News - Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach - New Times Broward-Palm Beach". Browardpalmbeach.com. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- "Diana Nyad: Penn State Shocker. Really?". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- Lipsyte, Robert (September 12, 1999). "Reflections on a Secret Life in Professional Sports". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
- "Reflections on a Secret Life in Professional Sports". The New York Times. September 12, 1999.
- "Swim Legend Diana Nyad To Swim From Cuba to Florida". Competenetwork.com. July 8, 2011. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- Next Post » Diana Nyad on Her Mask. "Diana Nyad on How She Did It". EllenTV.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Nyad Swim for Relief". Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
- "Nyad ends NY swim, raises $105K for Sandy victims". MyFoxNY. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Yohana Desta, USA TODAY 1:01 p.m. EST November 4, 2013 (2013-11-04). "Swimmer Diana Nyad to write memoir". Usatoday.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Official website
- Official bio on American Public Media
- Sports Illustrated, August 28, 1978; "An Ill Wind That Blew No Good"
- 1978 Nyad interview with John Calloway after her first Cuba-Florida attempt, Chicago Tonight, full video
- Works by or about Diana Nyad in libraries (WorldCat catalog)