Diana Nyad

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Diana Nyad
Born(1949-08-22) August 22, 1949 (age 63)
New York City, New York
Alma materLake Forest College (1973)
OccupationAuthor, journalist, swimmer
Known forchampionship swimming
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Diana Nyad
Born(1949-08-22) August 22, 1949 (age 63)
New York City, New York
Alma materLake Forest College (1973)
OccupationAuthor, journalist, swimmer
Known forchampionship swimming

Diana Nyad (born August 22, 1949 in New York City, New York) is an American author, journalist, and long-distance swimmer noted for her world-record endurance championships.[1] She was once ranked 30th among U.S. women squash players (date not given).[2]

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. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1986. Nyad was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003.[3]

She provides a weekly five-minute radio piece on sports for KCRW called The Score (heard during KCRW's broadcast of NPR's "All Things Considered"), as well as for the Marketplace radio program. She formerly hosted the public radio program "The Savvy Traveler."[4]

Nyad graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Lake Forest College in 1973.

In 2009 she narrated the documentary Training Rules.

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 GLBT community..."[5] Nyad is openly lesbian.[6]

In September 2011, Nyad announced that she would attempt the Cuba-to-Florida swim again in 2012.[7]

In 2011 she told a reporter that, in contrast to her youth, her drive as a swimmer is no longer propelled by attempts to work through the anger manifest from sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager.[8]

In 2011, she gave a talk at TEDMED.[9]

In 2012, she was the subject of the short documentary "Diana" by the digital channel WIGS.[10]


Swimming accomplishments

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 three and her mother soon remarried Aristotle Nyad, a Greek land developer, who adopted Diana.[11]

The family then moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she grew up and began swimming seriously in grade seven. She was enrolled at the elite Pine Crest School in the mid-1960s, swimming under the tutelage of Olympian (and Hall of Fame) coach Jack Nelson. Before graduating she won three Florida state high school championships in the Backstroke (at 100 and 200 yards).[12] 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 her speed.

After graduating from Pine Crest School in 1967 she entered Emory University, but was thrown out of school for jumping out a fourth-floor dormitory window wearing a parachute.[13] She then enrolled at Lake Forest College in Illinois, where she played tennis for the Foresters and resumed swimming, concentrating on distance events.[14] 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 swim in Lake Ontario in July 1970 (finishing 10th overall). After graduating from Lake Forest College with degrees in English and French, Nyad returned to south Florida to continue training with Dawson.

Diana Nyad was inducted into the United States' National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 2003 was honored with her induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. According to her "Speaker Bio" posted for the Gold Star Speakers Bureau in 2006, she is also a Hall of Famer at both her college, Lake Forest College in Illinois (where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa), and at her (private) high school, Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.[15]

Distance swims

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.[18] Research published by the Mayo Clinic in 2008 indicates there are beneficial effects of endurance training on age-related cellular dysfunction.

Cuba-to-Florida swim

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 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 from land: she said she felt "tired and dehydrated" but still "strong" and "easily able to swim another 20 hours without any problem."[19]

On July 10, 2010, at the age of 60, she began open water training for a 60-hour, 103-mile 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.[20][21] 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."[22]

When interviewed by the New York Times in Key West on July 18, Nyad estimated that cost of her "expedition" was about $500,000.[23]

Swim begins August 7, 2011

Diana Nyad announced Sunday morning August 7, 2011, at a Havana news conference, that she planned to enter the water at Havana's Marina Hemingway to begin her attempt. She entered the water later that evening at 7:45PM (Eastern) and began stroking for Florida. A news team from CNN was on board her support ship and provided live coverage of her swim. Nyad stopped her attempt early in the morning on August 9 - at 12:45AM, exactly 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.[24] In a speech given by Diana at a TED talk she described how she had been stung by a box jellyfish on two different occasions during the swim. The first on her right forearm and the on the second incident around the neck, it was this second attack combined with the first attack which led to the deterioration of the capability of her respiratory system during the swim and the necessity to stop.[9]

Physical conditions

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. 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 has bulked up her physique to about 150 pounds (15 pounds more than she weighed in 2010) to help counter the loss of body mass during her grueling swim.

To help fend off possible attacks by sharks, Nyad was escorted by a paddler in a kayak equipped with an electronic shark repellent, Protective Oceanic Device.[25]

To keep Nyad swimming in a straight line, her specially designed, slow-moving catamaran support boat deployed a 3-meter (10 feet) 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 will be replaced by a string of red LED lights.[26] 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.

Support team

Nyad assembled a team of 25 persons to support her during the swim. The people responsible for selecting the date to begin the swim were husband-and-wife scientists Dane and Jenifer Clark from Annapolis, Maryland. Dane is a meteorologist and Jenifer is a satellite oceanographer, and they are acknowledged as experts on Gulf Stream conditions. Her physician during training and accompanying her on the swim was Dr. Michael S. Broder. The Clarks analyzed satellite weather and ocean data to select the best three-day "window of opportunity" to find the right combination of favorable winds and the warmest water temperatures.[27] Nyad wrote in her blog that Gulf water temperatures had been rising steadily through early July 2011, but that as of July 11 had tapered off at 84 degrees, and she required a minimum of 86 degrees, with even warmer water inside the Gulf Stream current, to begin her swim.

End of swim

Nyad had to give up her swim on August 9 due to ocean swells, shoulder pain, and asthma.[28]

Second attempt

In September 2011 Nyad made another attempt at the Cuba-to-Florida swim, but had to stop before completing it because of box jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings.[29] She declared she would attempt the swim again in 2012.[30][31]

Latest attempt

Nyad began her fourth[32][33] quest on August 18, 2012, to set an open-water record by swimming 103 miles (166 kilometers) from Havana to the Florida Keys without a protective shark cage.[34] Her swim ended on the morning of August 21, 2012, about halfway through the attempt. Nyad's Operations Chief Mark Sollinger announced to CNN, "Diana suffered bad jellyfish stings overnight, and a bad lightning storm put us wildly off course."[33] She has cited Michael Phelps's 2012 performance in the 2012 Summer Olympics as her inspiration for her fourth attempt.[33]

Professional writing and speaking career

Diana Nyad has written 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 #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.[35] 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. 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."

An analysis of Nyad's ability to dissociate during her marathon swims can be found in the 2008 book Sporting Lives: Metaphor and Myth in American Sports Autobiographies by James W. Pipkin (Univ. of Missouri Press: 2008); Diana Nyad pp. 90–92.[36]


  1. ^ "Diana Nyad". American Public Media. 2004. http://savvytraveler.publicradio.org/about/bios/nyad.shtml. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  2. ^ Ahead of Their Time: A Biographical Dictionary of Risk-Taking Women, Diana Sneed Nyad pp. 245-47.
  3. ^ Lipsyte, Robert (September 12, 1999). "Reflections on a Secret Life in Professional Sports". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905EFDF113DF931A2575AC0A96F958260. Retrieved September 2, 2011
  4. ^ "Say hello to Savvy Traveler host Diana Nyad...". publicradio.org. http://savvytraveler.publicradio.org/about/bios/meetdiana.shtml. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  5. ^ http://www.competenetwork.com/blogs/696-swim-legend-diana-nyad-to-swim-from-cuba-to-florida; posted Friday July 8, 2011 at 12:33; accessed July 18, 2011.
  6. ^ "Reflections on a Secret Life in Professional Sports". The New York Times. September 12, 1999. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/12/sports/reflections-on-a-secret-life-in-professional-sports.html?pagewanted=2&src=pm.
  7. ^ "Nyad suffers stings on record swim". cnn.com (cnn.com). September 25, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/24/world/americas/cuba-nyad-swim/index.html?sct=hp_t2_a3&eref=sihp. Retrieved September 24, 2011.
  8. ^ Alvarez, Lizette (July 18, 2011). "Ready to Swim 103 Miles With the Sharks", New York Times, retrieved July 18, 2011
  9. ^ a b http://www.ted.com/talks/diana_nyad_extreme_swimming_with_the_world_s_most_dangerous_jellyfish.html
  10. ^ http://diananyad.com/diana-a-wigsreal-documentary-now-playing/
  11. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=GpkN_MX0HMcC&pg=PA247&dq=Marathon+swim+Bimini+to+Florida+1979&hl=en&ei=DAclTsuqE4bc0QG48tS5Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CEEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Marathon%20swim%20Bimini%20to%20Florida%201979&f=false%7C Ahead of Their Time: A Biographical Dictionary of Risk-Taking women, edited by Joyce Duncan (Greenwood Publishing: 2002), Diana Sneed Nyad pp.245-47; accessed July 19, 2011.
  12. ^ http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/2007-06-14/news/jack-and-diana/2/%7C Broward-Palm Beach New Times, June 14, 2004, "Jack and Diana"; accessed July 19, 2011.
  13. ^ High school career and expulsion from Emory described in Nyad's 2002 induction as Al Schoenfield Media Award winner; http://www.ishof.org/Honorees/2002/02dnyad.html
  14. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=pJ7LmzGJhZYC&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61&dq=Pine+Crest+school+florida+diana+nyad&source=bl&ots=YBDAdiOpZz&sig=9NMJvZsLVU3tJn4KPWYk4KQnvFA&hl=en&ei=KBMmTvTeM6rc0QGw9tH5Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBQQ6AEwADge#v=onepage&q=Pine%20Crest%20school%20florida%20diana%20nyad&f=false%7C Sport Lauderdale: Big Names and Big Games, by Cynthia A. Thuma (The History Press: 2007); Diana Nyad, p.62
  15. ^ Source is HickokSports.com, "Sports Biographies/Swimming: Nyad, Diana"; accessed July 18, 2011.
  16. ^ http://www.nycswim.org/Article/ArticleTemplate.aspx?Article_ID=778%7C ; "Woman Swimmers Circles Manhattan on Her Second Attempt"; published in NYC Swim on 7 OCT 75; accessed July 18, 2011.
  17. ^ The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: Sports Figures Vol.2, edited by Arnie Markoe (New York:2002)
  18. ^ Daily News of Open Water Swimming; Thursday July 14, 2011; "Can Diana Nyad Make from Cuba to Florida?"; accessed July 18, 2011.
  19. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/10/15/diana.nyad.goal/index.html; CNN Health News, October 15, 2010; "Nyad delays attempt to break distance-swim record"; accessed July 18, 2011.
  20. ^ http://www.kcrw.com/etc/diananyad
  21. ^ Alvarez, Lizette (July 18, 2011). "Swimming With the Sharks, for 103 Miles". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/health/nutrition/19swim.htm. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  22. ^ http://www.thedailyherald.com/sports/local-sports/15034-marathon-swimmer-poised-for-cuba-florida-attempt.html%7C The Daily Herald, Sunday March 25, 2011, "Marathon swimmer poised for Cuba-Florida attempt"; accessed July 18, 2011.
  23. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/health/nutrition/19swim.html?_r=1&ref=health%7C The New York Times, Monday July 18, 2011; "Ready to Swim 103 Miles With the Sharks"; accessed July 19, 2011.
  24. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/07/nyad.swim.motivation/index.html?hpt=he_c1%7C CNN News & Health, "Nyad: Today's swim shows 60s not too late for goals"; accessed August 7, 2011
  25. ^ 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"; http://diananyad.com/blog/page/5/; accessed July 18, 2011.
  26. ^ YAHOO! Sports, July 15, 2011, "World Record Holder Diana Nyad Set to Conquer Sharks, Distance and Time"; accessed July 18, 2011.
  27. ^ The Washington Post, Sports, May 25, 2011; "Diana Nyad, at age 61, prepares for second attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West", interview by Sally Jenkins; accessed July 18, 2011.
  28. ^ "Diana Nyad back in U.S. after abandoning Cuba to Florida swim". CNN. August 9, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/09/nyad.103.mile.swim/index.html?hpt=hp_c1.
  29. ^ "Jellyfish, currents cut short Cuba-to-Florida swim - CNN.com". CNN. September 26, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/25/health/cuba-nyad-swim/index.html.
  30. ^ http://www.brightonpittsfordpost.com/events/x131605520/Swimmer-Diana-Nyad-to-be-Lifespans-2012-Celebration-of-Aging
  31. ^ http://www.diananyad.com
  32. ^ Welikala, Judith. "Cuba-to-Florida Swimmer Diana Nyad Makes Fourth Attempt". Time. http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/08/20/cuba-to-florida-swimmer-diana-nyad-makes-fourth-attempt/. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  33. ^ a b c Schilken, Chuck (21 August 2012). "Diana Nyad ends her latest attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida". The Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-diana-nyad-20120821,0,1786758.story. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  34. ^ ORSI, Peter. "Nyad Back in the Water in Cuba-Florida Record Swim". AP. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CB_CUBA_SWIMMING_TO_FLORIDA?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-08-18-17-19-28. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  35. ^ http://www.goldstars.com/speakers/nyad_diana.html; Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, bio for Diana Nyad; accessed July 18, 2011.
  36. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=EG6a-WCLdTkC&pg=PA91&dq=Marathon+swim+Bimini+to+Florida+1979&hl=en&ei=1w0lTqisH6b40gGkvM3rCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Marathon%20swim%20Bimini%20to%20Florida%201979&f=false%7C accessed July 19, 2011.

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