Born on August 22, 1949, in New York City, Diana Nyad went on to become a world-class swimmer, setting records for speed in her swim around Manhattan and distance in a swim from the Bahama to Florida. She worked as a journalist for a time before returning to the water, and, after several failed attempts, at 64 became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
World-class swimmer Diana Nyad was born Diana Sneed in New York City on August 22, 1949. Her mother remarried when Diana was a young child, and she was adopted by her stepfather, hence taking on his surname Nyad. The family relocated to South Florida, where Diana grew up, and she joined her school's swim team at the age of 10. The team instructor, upon noticing Nyad's skill, saw that great things were in store for her.
Nyad's home life was tumultuous however as her stepfather was an unstable presence involved in illicit activities. The young athlete used swimming as a refuge, winning titles. She faced further pain however when she was sexually abused by a coach during her teens.
After a stint at Emory University, Nyad went on to attend and graduate Phi Betta Kappa from Lake Forest College. She continued to dominate in swimming, traveling throughout the globe. She set a speed world record in 1975 for swimming around Manhattan in under eight hours, and a few years later, set a distance record for her 102.5-mile swim from the Bahamas to Florida, breaking records set by both women and men in both instances.
Swims From Cuba to Florida
During the 1980s and '90s, Nyad stopped swimming and set up shop as a broadcast sports journalist, working with a variety of programs that included Wide World of Sports, One on One With Diana Nyad and NPR's The Savvy Traveler and The Score. She was also in a long-term relationship with a woman, with Nyad having generally been out about her sexuality among colleagues and loved ones.
Nyad returned to the water after the death of her mother in 2007. Starting in 2011, the athlete made several attempts to complete a swimming journey between Cuba and Florida; she had previously tried to do so when she was 28 and was hindered on more recent tries by rough weather, severe jellyfish stings and an asthma attack. She had once told CNN, "I think I'm going to my grave without swimming from Cuba to Florida," and her best friend Bonnie Stoll, with whom Nyad started the exercise-oriented Brava Body, expressed concern over the marathon swimmer continuing her quest.
Yet on Labor Day, September 2, 2013—her fifth try—Nyad achieved her dream, swimming 110 miles between Havana and Key West. Accompanied by a support team and in the water for more than two days, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage or fins, doing so at 64 years old.
The tri-lingual Nyad, who has been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, is also a successful author. She's written the memoir Other Shores (1978) as well as Diana Nyad's Basic Training for Women (1981) and Boss of Me: The Keyshawn Johnson Story (1999). In 2015, she published her latest work, Find a Way. This memoir covers her efforts to swim from Florida to Cuba, a journey she finally completed in 2013.
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