Diana was once ranked as the top 30th among US athletes. In 1986, she was introduced to the National Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2003, to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Knowing how to accept the facts and then change course even if it means abandoning your game is a sign of great leadership. Diana Nyad is that kind of person. She is an inspiring personality who did what she wanted to do. Armed with her motivation and courage, she faced difficult times before she reached her destination.
Early Biography: Swimming to Cope with Abuse
Diana Nyad was born on August 22, 1949 in New York. Nyad’s father, William Sneed died when she was only three years old and her mother remarried Aristotle Nyad. In 1955, her family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she began her studies and started swimming while in grade 7. It was her outlet for the anger she felt when she was sexually abused as a teenager. But all that changed as she became a professional swimmer. She learned how to longer be motivated by anger.
In 1963, Diana Nyad enrolled at the elite Pine Crest School, where she learned swimming under Olympian coach, Jack Nelson. Until her graduation, Diana had won three championships in Florida State. She wanted to join in the 1966 Olympic, but she fell from her bed, suffering from endocarditis, a heart infection. After her recovery, she began swimming but her pace and speed had been lost.
In 1967, Diana Nyad joined Emory University after she graduated from Pine Crest School, but she was thrown out of the school after her attempt to jump out of the dormitory window wearing a parachute. In the same year, she joined the Lake Forest College in Illinois and started playing tennis.
She also concentrated on distance swimming events and played for the Foresters. Director of International Swimming Hall of Fame Florida, Buck Dawson saw Diana’s performance in a university event and introduced her to marathon swimming. Diana started training at his swimming camp in Ontario and in her first race set a women’s world record of 4 hours and 22 minutes in a 10–mile swim in Lake Ontario.
Nyad went back to south Florida to pursue her career as a swimmer, after graduating in French and English courses from Lake Forest College. In 1986, she was inducted to US National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Setting Swimming Records
In June 1974, Diana Nyad set a record of 8 hours and 11 minutes in a 22–mile swim at the Bay of Naples. At her age of 26, Nyad swam and finished a 28–mile distance around the island of Manhattan in only 8 hours. On August 13, 1978, Diana Nyad attempted to swim from Havana to Key West. In her biography written in a 1978 published book, “Training for Women,” she described marathon swimming as a battle against a brutal foe—the sea—and victory was only possible if she touch the other shore.
While diving from Ortegosa Beach in Florida, she swam inside a shark cage for 42 hours. Support team removed Diana after seven hours, when she had crossed 76 miles in a zigzag path.
During her 30th birthday, in 1979, she made her last competitive swim and set a world record for distance swimming of 102 miles from an island in the Bahamas called Bimini to Juno Beach of Florida. In this swim, Diana didn’t use the shark protection cage. This time, the winds were favorable and Nyad crossed the distance in an average of 3.7 miles per hour in 27 hours.
In 2003, Diana Nyad was honored in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. In 2006, she is also a Hall of Fame awardee in Pine Crest School Lauderdale, Florida and Lake Forest College Illinois. In 2009, Diana Nyad narrated a documentary entitled “Training Rules.”
Diana's TED Talk in 2010
On July 10, 2010, Diana Nyad swam 40 miles out to sea from a fishing vessel that she had chartered. She was pulled back to the board by her helpers after she felt dehydrated and tired, but she was still energetic and strong to continue swimming for the next 20 hours.
She also began a 60–hour swim from Cuba to Florida, a task in which she had failed previously. After her 2010 longest swim record, she said in an interview:
"I would like to prove to other 60–year–old people that it’s not yet late to start your dreams."
On October 15, 2010, Diana told CNN that she was training and planning to swim by July 23, but strong winds and weather conditions stopped her to continue her attempt.
Following her encounter with the swarm of deadly jellyfish, she spoke to TED about what fuels her to keep on conquering distance swimming despite her age. Diana said:
"And with all sincerity, I can say, I am glad I lived those two years of my life that way, because my goal to not suffer regrets anymore, I got there with that goal. When you live that way, when you live with that kind of passion, there's no time, there's no time for regrets, you're just moving forward. And I want to live every day of the rest of my life that way, swim or no swim. But the difference in accepting this particular defeat is that sometimes, if cancer has won, if there's death and we have no choice, then grace and acceptance are necessary.
But that ocean's still there. This hope is still alive. And I don't want to be the crazy woman who does it for years and years and years, and tries and fails and tries and fails and tries and fails, but I can swim from Cuba to Florida, and I will swim from Cuba to Florida." (Source: TED)
On March 25, 2011, Diana told in an interview with the Daily Herald that her plan for that year included a large operation as she wanted to work in an expedition. Diana shared that they have 25 people, including shark experts, medical people, weather routers, boat crew, managers, and navigators.
In this interview, Diana told that her team was waiting for the hottest water and soon had to move to Havana. On July 18, she told in her interview with New York Times that the cost of her swim was about $500,000.
The 2011 Global Open Water Swimming Conference was held in New York on June 17 to 19, in which all the participants agreed that her physical capabilities will enable her to swim from Cuba to Florida. Psychologists told that mental determination was quite important than the physical energy of the swimmers in long distance swim. She practiced for 8 to 14 hours every week while staying in St. Maarten Caribbean Island. Later on, she moved to Key West for her training and embarked on a one–day continuous swim.
On July 08, 2011, Compete Network, a US sports website reported her plans for the 2011 Cuba–to–Florida distance swim. The magazine wrote about Nyad as “a living legendary in her swimming world, a role model for LGBT community.” On September 2011, Diana Nyad told about her future plan that she would attempt the Cuba–to–Florida swim in 2012 again.
In September 2011, Google told that the 62–year–old Diana Nyad topped the Google searches because of her attempt to swim between Florida and Cuba without using shark cage. About 1.3 million Twitter users followed her between September 23 and September 24. In 2011, Diana bulked up her weight to 150 pounds, 15 pounds more than 2010 to counter loss of body mass during her swim.
In order to avoid shark attacks, she also used an electronic shark repellent. Just like a line in swimming pool competitions, Nyad used a boot streamer to make her swim in straight line. During night times of summer 2011, support team replaces white streamer with red lights streams. In the 2011 summer attempt, Nyad entered in water along with 25 members of support team in a ship. The key people in her support team were Jennifer Clark and her husband Dane, who had been expert on Gulf Stream conditions.
Her Failed Attempt to Swim from Havana to Florida in 2012
On Sunday, August 19, 2012 the sea was fairly calm and if everything had to go well, Diana aimed to continue her swim until reaching her destination. Diana said, “ It takes me some 60 hours, non-stop swimming, to make it from Havana to one of the Florida Keys, probably Marathon....how apt a name for the end of an epic endurance event.”
Diana made another attempt into Cuba waters in September, but her efforts were stopped because of Portuguese man–of–war stings and box jellyfish. She announced about her attempted plan in 2012. On August 18, 2012, Nyad set a world record of 103 miles continuous swim from Havana to Florida.
She stopped her swim in the morning of August 21, 2012. Her chief operating officer told that Nyad suffered jellyfish stings last night and storm within the vicinity made her attempt more difficult. Diana Nyad told in an interview that her motivation to go for her fourth attempt in 2012 was because of Michael Phelps’ performance in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Diana Nyad Successfully Swims from Cuba to Florida sans Shark Cage
Age did not keep Diana from trying again and again to fulfill her lifelong dream of setting a record for swimming without shark cage from Cuba all the way to Florida. At 64 years old, Diana saw this come to pass on 3 September 2013.
The record-breaking athlete increased her speed to her maximum at 2.83km/h even after staying for 24 hours in the water. Their many failed attempts helped them foresee dangers and handle jellyfishes. When Diana saw one coming to her direction, her team swam ahead of her to check if there’s more. Her attempt in 2012 to cross from Cuba to Florida has been derailed largely due to jellyfish stings, which turn out to be deadly.
Along with her record performance in distance swim, Diana is also an author, a motivational speaker, and a journalist. She has written three famous books about her Cuba swimming adventures. Her first book “Other Shores" was published in 1978, which was about stories of her swimming challenges and her motivations that led her across major adventures.
Diana also writes for Newsweek, New York Times, and many other publications and is a contributor to afternoon news at the National Public Radio broadcasting. Nyad also works as a Marketplace business news commentator and worked as a regular contributor in the CBS show, The Sunday Morning. Diana Nyad as a motivational speaker has delivered motivational talks to various groups through Gold Star speakers’ agency since 2006.
Diana Nyad as a swimmer did not only break various records in long-distance swimming, she also gave inspiration to people who want their dream to become a reality by being a good example—something that is worth emulating. She is over 60 years old, yet she still pursued her dreams even if she was already an accomplished person. These make her someone worth looking up to especially by those who already stopped dreaming because they think that they are too old to work for their dreams.
- National Public Radio (KCRW/All Things Considered/Marketplace)
- The New York Times
- Gold Star
- CBS News (Sunday Morning)
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Open Water Source
- La Sammana
Achievements and Awards
- 1974: Set a world record at the 22-miles Bay of Naples race
- 1975: Set a world record at the 28-miles around Manhattan swim
- 1978: Covered a 78 miles swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West
- 1979: Set a world record for an open water swim of 102 miles from Bahamas to Florida
- 1986: National Women’s Hall of Fame
- 2003: International Swimming Hall of Fame
- 2010 – 2012: Attempted four times to swim from Havana to Cuba
- 2013: Completed the swim from Cuba to Florida without using shark cage