It’s rather ironic that the headline of this piece calls it “another wild story,” because evidence suggests that’s all it is. The author would’ve done well to do even a little bit of research into Diana Nyad’s past, which is littered with evidence that she is a serial fabulist. Nyad’s claims have been the subject of a significant amount of criticism in the marathon swimming world for literally decades, but this piece would leave the reader without any of that context or history. The very swim chronicled by the film (from Cuba to Florida in 2013) is part of that troubling legacy: Nyad’s own GPS data shows an inexplicable boost in her average speed up to 3.9 mph for several hours late in her swim. She claims it was the result of favorable ocean currents, but even Michael Phelps averaged slower than that in his world-record setting 400-meter individual medley swim in Beijing in 2008, which lasted just over four minutes.
There is also ample documented evidence of other false claims: Nyad claims to have swum in the 1968 Olympic trials (she didn’t), she has repeatedly claimed to be the first woman to swim around Manhattan (she was the seventh), and she claimed to be the first person, man or woman, to swim the Cuba-to-Florida crossing (she wasn’t, and she repeatedly defamed and insulted the real record holder, Walter Poenisch). Readers interested in this context should read Dave McKenna’s reporting at Defector for more information. I am disappointed that talented filmmakers like Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 and Jimmy Chin would be taken in (“intoxicated,” in Vasarhelyi’s own words) by Nyad’s charismatic lies and exaggerations, producing a simplistic, mediocre girl-power film about her when there are so many more qualified female athletes of great distinction whose stories could’ve been told. I guess they don’t have good publicists.