Nyad, Diana

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NYAD, Diana

(b. 22 August 1949 in New York City), world-record marathon swimmer, Women's Sports Foundation International Sports Hall of Fame inductee, television correspondent, and radio producer.

Born Diana Sneed, Nyad is the daughter of William Sneed, a stockbroker, and Lucy Curtis. She was raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and began swimming at the age of six months. At age eleven she started training seriously under Olympic coach Jack Nelson and became a nationally ranked backstroker. After a bout of endocarditis at age sixteen kept Nyad from trying out for the 1968 Olympics, her conditioning suffered greatly and her dream of being an Olympic athlete faded quickly.

Nyad was introduced to the sport of marathon swimming in 1968. Her first marathon held in 1970 in Hamilton, Ontario, was ten miles long. Nyad recounted that Judith de Nijs, the best marathon swimmer in the world throughout the 1960s, told her before the race that she would beat Nyad, and if not, she would retire. Nyad beat her by fifteen minutes in a record-breaking four hours and twenty-three minutes; de Nijs did indeed retire. In 1975 Nyad swam the twenty-eight-mile circuit around the island of Manhattan and set another record: seven hours and fifty-seven minutes.

For marathon swimmers, great perseverance is the norm. Nyad has written about the psychology of a marathoner and how sensory deprivation leads to an altered state of consciousness. In 1978 Nyad attempted to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida, a feat that had never been accomplished. Unfortunately, a storm curtailed her swim, but not until she had completed seventy-nine miles in forty-one hours and forty-nine minutes. She wanted to try again in 1979, but the politics of obtaining a visa were difficult. On 22 August 1979 Nyad set a world record by swimming eighty-nine miles from Bimini Island to Jupiter, Florida, in twenty-seven hours and thirty-eight minutes. Nyad also holds the record for men and women for the north-to-south crossing of Lake Ontario.

Nyad attained the women's world record for a twenty-six-mile race in the Parana River in Argentina. In addition, she swam twenty-two miles from Capri to Naples, Italy, and fifty miles from the Great Barrier Reef to the Australian Coast. Nyad was named the top marathon swimmer from 1969 to 1977.

Nyad attended Emory University and Université de Dijon, and graduated with honors and was Phi Beta Kappa from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, in 1973. She received an M.A. in comparative literature from New York University in 1975. Nyad coached the Barnard College swim team between 1975 and 1977.

Throughout her life, Nyad has been a spokesperson for justice, advocating on behalf of gays and lesbians as well as women in sport. She was named Ms. magazine's Woman of the Year in 1975, and she was inducted into the Women's Sports Foundation International Hall of Fame in 1986. She was also inducted into the halls of fame of her college, Lake Forest, and her high school, Pine Crest Preparatory.

Beginning in 1980 Nyad worked as a television correspondent, eventually holding positions at ABC, CNBC, and Fox Sports Net. In 1998 she joined the latter network as a senior correspondent on the weekly sports magazine show Goin' Deep. In addition, she is a radio producer and host of The Savvy Traveler, a National Public Radio show.

For details on the intricate aspects of a marathon swimmer, see Diana Nyad, Other Shores (1978). Nyad also contributed "Mind over Water" to Laurel Blossom, ed., Splash! Great Writing About Swimming (1986). Many encyclopedias of women in sport highlight Nyad's accomplishments, the best being C. Oglesby et al., eds., Encyclopedia of Women and Sport in America (1998).

Shawn Ladda

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