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Nyad, Diana (b. 1949)  
 
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Diana Nyad first earned fame as a long-distance swimmer. She went on to become a respected sports commentator on television and radio, and she has, in more recent years, spoken out on issues of glbtq rights. In 2013, at the age of 64, she finally completed a historic swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida.

She was born Diana Sneed on August 22, 1949 in New York City. Her parents divorced while she was a toddler, and her mother subsequently entered into a second marriage with Aristotle Nyad, an immigrant from Greece, who adopted the child and moved the family to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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In a 2005 piece in Newsweek Nyad remembered her stepfather as a sophisticated, handsome, and charismatic man who "made his living as a con artist." Nyad's mother eventually divorced him, and in 1964 Aristotle Nyad fled the country one step ahead of the law.

Although Diana Nyad admitted in an interview with Hector Ruiz that she "was terrified of [her stepfather] in some ways," in her Newsweek article she recalled that "there was another side to [him]." Because of his love for literature and his culture he read to his little stepdaughter every night from the Odyssey, making it, she wrote, "the first book I ever knew, even before Babar."

Nyad also recounted a vivid recollection of an occasion when she was around six years old and her stepfather showed her the word naiad (the original spelling of the family name) in a dictionary. The time, she stated, was "just at the juncture when I was developing an ego, the id of self-definition. The first meaning of naiad: 'from Greek mythology, the nymphs that swam the lakes, fountains, rivers and seas to protect them for the gods. The second meaning: 'girl or woman champion swimmer.' Aris winked at me, and we both understood that this was my destiny."

The impetus for Nyad's entry into the world of competitive swimming would come, however, not from predestination but rather from the offer of a geography teacher to give an A to any student who joined the swimming team.

Nyad, then ten years old, jumped at the chance, and her spirits were buoyed when her teacher and coach, a former Olympian, declared on her first day of training, "Kid, you're going to be the best swimmer in the world."

Swimming proved a refuge from Nyad's tumultuous home life. She specialized in the backstroke, won numerous titles in her age group, and dreamed of Olympic glory at Mexico City in 1968.

At fourteen Nyad was poised to contend for the Florida state championship. On the eve of the competition, however, her (male) coach molested her. For the first time in two years she lost her races.

The abuse went on until Nyad graduated from high school. She chose not to report it for fear of causing embarrassment to her mother. Articles in the New York Times in 1975 and 1979 attributed the temporary slump in Nyad's performance to an attack of endocarditis, an infection of the heart, when she was sixteen.

After graduating from high school Nyad entered Emory University as a pre-med major. She was less than serious about her studies, however, and was given to pulling pranks—including jumping from a fourth floor dorm window with a parachute—and the combination led to her expulsion.

She subsequently enrolled at Lake Forest College in Chicago, where she excelled as a student, majoring in French and earning membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

Nyad returned to swimming but changed her focus to marathon events. Her first major competition was a swim across Lake Ontario in 1970 in which she finished tenth in a field of sixty and set a new record for women.

Nyad's career in swimming took her to exotic locales around the globe, including the Suez Canal, the North Sea, the Nile, the Parana River in Argentina, the Bay of Naples, and the Great Barrier Reef. Her 102.5-mile journey from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979 set a record that still stands as the longest swim by an athlete not using a shark cage or fins.

The effort that most drew the attention of the American public was a swim around Manhattan Island in 1975. Her first attempt, on September 25, had to be aborted because of adverse weather conditions. She was taken to Brooklyn Hospital, where, despite the fact that she was "cold, frozen, and tired," she declared to John Corry of the New York Times, "You know what? I'm going to do it again."

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Diana Nyad following her historic swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.
  
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