The open-water crossing from Cuba to Florida is 111 miles — or about five times the size of the English Channel. No one had ever swum across it. In fact, no one had even come close. But in 2013, 64-year-old Diana Nyad was desperate to conquer this major challenge despite the life-threatening danger from sharks, storms, and sea creatures. The story of her swim is incredible, and to many, she is a hero. Others, however, aren’t quite so convinced. Some people out there think there’s something fishy about Diana Nyad and her claims to fame.
Nobody could tell her it couldn’t be done
Even Nyad knew that she would be pushing the boundaries of what her body could achieve. “When I turned 60, there was a true, existential anxiety about how much time is left,” she told NPR in 2015. “My mom had just died; she was 82.”
She added, “I thought, ‘Uh-uh, I’m not going into that good night. I am going to fire up and live this thing as large as I can live it until I can’t live it that large anymore.’” So, that’s what she set out to do.
This part of the ocean is like Mother Nature on steroids
Nyad’s swim wouldn’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination. The waters between Cuba and Florida are merciless, filled with deadly creatures such as sharks and jellyfish. They wouldn’t hesitate to pounce upon an exhausted, fallible human swimmer.
It takes a certain type of personality to willingly sign up for such an ordeal, and Nyad has it. She told NPR, “You can’t find a stretch of ocean more rife with Mother Nature on steroids — for a swimmer — as you can across the Straits of Florida between Havana and Key West.”
She had failed before
Nyad had first-hand experience of the perils of the ocean. She had tried — and failed — to complete this swim four times before. She had been stung by jellyfish, almost succumbed to dehydration, and been caught in storms. She was literally putting her life at risk every time she went out into those waters.
“Standing on the rocks, we started at Marina Hemingway, which is a famous location in Havana,” she recalled in 2015. “And [her team is] screaming to each other, ‘Onward! Find a way!’ It’s a surreal feeling. I think it’s worse when you know what’s out there.”
Nyad had a history of achievement
By this point in her life, though, Nyad wasn’t exactly fazed by the task before her. She’d long since developed a reputation as one of the best long-distance swimmers on Earth. The many world records and medals she had to her name proved as much.
Nyad was widely considered to be the very best long-distance swimmer around from 1969 to 1979. She’d swam the 102-mile trip from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida. She’d swam in a circle around Manhattan Island in a record-breaking time of under eight hours. She was, in short, one of the all-time greats.