Netflix has Oscar hopes for its Diana Nyad biopic. But the swimmer’s exaggerations cast a pall

A female swimmer in red bathing suit and yellow cap, seen from underwater
Annette Bening portrays marathon swimmer Diana Nyad in Netflix biopic “Nyad.”
(Liz Parkinson / Netflix)
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In August 2013, Diana Nyad, then 64 years old, was in Havana, anxiously eyeing the weather and the ocean currents, waiting for just the right moment to try to swim from Cuba to Florida.

After three decades away from the sport, the former marathon swimmer turned broadcaster and journalist had decided to return to this lifelong dream — and when the famously iron-willed Nyad decided to do something, nothing would stand in her way.

Over the previous 3½ years, coached by her longtime best friend Bonnie Stoll, Nyad had poured endless amounts of energy and training into trying to complete the swim: 16-hour endurance sessions. Thousands of burpees. Complex logistical planning with a crew of more than 40 people. Her three previous attempts in 2011 and 2012 had failed, derailed at various turns by storms, an asthma attack and box jellyfish stings that nearly killed her. Now, at 64, on what could be her final attempt, she needed everything to go her way.


A woman in white jacket and black pants stands onstage with her arms crossed before a seated audience
After swimming from Cuba to Florida, Diana Nyad became a much-in-demand speaker. Here she addresses “Visionary Women present Grit, Guts, and Grace: Lessons in Overcoming Adversity and Cultivating Resilience” in 2017.
(Rachel Murray / Getty Images)

“Every day, we were like, ‘Is there a window? Is there a window?’” Nyad says on a recent morning in an office on Hollywood Boulevard. “Every day, we were sitting with the meteorologists and looking at the Atlantic gyre.”

Completing the 110-mile swim across the Florida Straits was a grueling and dangerous prospect for even the strongest swimmer. Only two people had done it before — 65-year-old Walter Poenisch in 1978 and 22-year-old Susie Maroney in 1997 — both of whom used shark cages (Poenisch had also used a snorkel and fins). Nyad herself had tried and failed in 1978 when she was 29.

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Returning to the goal decades later, Nyad, with the same brashly confident flair for seizing the limelight that had first propelled her to stardom as a swimmer and sports commentator, declared her intention to be the first person to make the swim without a shark cage. With each failed attempt, her death- and age-defying endeavor drew more media attention and public support.

Finally, on Sept. 2, 2013, after nearly 53 hours of swimming, Nyad staggered onto Smathers Beach at Key West, face severely swollen and legs barely holding her up. Ringed by a cheering crowd, she hugged Stoll and stepped toward a microphone to deliver a message: “You should never, ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams.” It was like a scene out of an inspirational sports movie.


And now it is one. Led by the powerhouse acting duo of Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as Stoll, Netflix’s “Nyad” chronicles the swimmer’s improbable late-in-life effort to fulfill her quest as well as her partnership with Stoll, chief navigator John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans) and the rest of the crew. One of the streamer’s key awards hopefuls this year, the film marks the narrative feature debut of documentary filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who won the documentary feature Oscar in 2019 for “Free Solo,” about climber Alex Honnold. Oscar prognosticators are already speculating whether Bening, who spent a year training to play the swimmer, could land a fifth Oscar nomination for the film. Foster, who has won twice, also is considered a potential contender.

A female swimmer stands on shore, waving, before diving into the water.
Diana Nyad starts her fifth attempt to swim across the Florida Straits on Aug. 31, 2013, in Havana’s Marina Hemingway.
(Ernesto Mastrascusa / LatinContent via Getty Images)

But just like Nyad when she set off for Key West, the film will face choppy waters on its path to potential glory. In recent months, as the release of “Nyad” has approached, decade-old questions about the way Nyad’s Cuba swim was conducted and documented have resurfaced in the small but impassioned marathon swimming community, along with broader accusations about Nyad’s own character and credibility, complicating the film’s PR rollout.

“Diana is like a Trumpian figure in this space,” says Elaine K. Howley, a marathon swimmer who also has covered the sport as a journalist. “Whether you like her or not, she sucks up all of the oxygen in the room with her boastfulness and exaggeration and narcissism. There are conflicted feelings because finally this really cool, really hard sport we love is getting the feature movie that it deserves — and there are a lot of us who feel, like, really? You’re going to make it about her?”

Days before the film’s Telluride premiere, Nyad sits beside Stoll in the office of her high-powered publicist, Kelly Bush Novak, who also represents retired tennis star Serena Williams and numerous Hollywood luminaries. Nyad and Stoll, 71, a former professional racquetball player, show off their matching tattoos that read ishin-denshin, an East Asian idiom denoting a kind of direct, unspoken understanding. (After a brief early romantic involvement, the two have been friends for four decades.) With the Screen Actors Guild on strike, Nyad, who is a SAG-AFTRA member, was granted approval to be interviewed for this story but was restricted from speaking about the film. “I can only say one quick phrase,” she says. “I was blown away.”


A woman puts her arm around the shoulders of another woman to comfort her.
Annette Bening, left, and Jodie Foster play longtime best friends Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll in “Nyad.”
(Kimberley French / Netflix)

Within the world of marathon swimming, which has no single governing authority and its own fractious internal politics, Nyad has long been a polarizing figure. (A marathon swim is typically defined as anything over 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles; roughly 4,000 people worldwide have completed such an endurance swim so far this year.) While her fans and supporters laud her as a pioneer and a guiding light, some of her peers have criticized her for what they regard as a history of making overblown claims about her career and, in the case of her most famous achievement, seeming to play by her own rules.

The story of Nyad’s Cuba-to-Florida swim brought her worldwide fame. In its wake, she was invited to President Obama’s White House, did a stint on “Dancing With the Stars,” was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, gave countless motivational speeches and wrote a bestselling 2015 memoir, “Find a Way,” on which the forthcoming biopic is based.

In the run-up to the fall release of “Nyad,” however, her detractors in the swimming community have been raising objections on social media and in online forums. One former marathon swimmer, Daniel Slosberg, has waged a particularly intense and, at times, bitterly personal campaign to highlight questions about Nyad’s claims through a website he created several years ago,

“Diana Nyad is only a big figure in the marathon swimming community in the sense that she’s loud,” says Slosberg, who has combed through Nyad’s public statements, writings and swimming records stretching back to the 1960s with a zeal bordering on obsession. “Most people in the community are very supportive of other marathon swimmers. But they don’t take Nyad seriously. The main buzz in the community is that this is a travesty.”


In December, the World Open Water Swimming Assn., one of the sport’s two main global organizations, published an exhaustively researched report on Nyad’s 2013 Cuba swim. In a piece published last month on its website titled “‘Nyad’ on Netflix: The Swim, the Scandal, the Silence,” WOWSA noted that Nyad’s swim has never been officially ratified and advised viewers of the film to “watch with discernment, keeping in mind the discrepancies about the swim.”

The Guinness Book of World Records recently removed Nyad’s record for the swim from its database after WOWSA flagged its lack of ratification. (Nyad’s allies are pushing to get the record reinstated.)

A woman in a blue T-shirt seated next to a woman in a white open-necked shirt and dark jacket
Diana Nyad, right, with her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll, photographed at Stoll’s home in Los Angeles on Aug. 25, 2023.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

While representatives for the film and Nyad have quietly scrambled behind the scenes to tamp down the blowback, co-directors Vasarhelyi and Chin, who are married, are standing firmly behind “Nyad” and its subject.


“When you are pushing the edges of your sport, you have a target on your back — and, it seems, particularly if you’re an outspoken gay woman in her 60s,” says Chin, who is a professional mountain athlete. “A lot of the athletes that I’ve worked with haven’t been universally loved because they’re dedicated and committed. And sometimes to make things happen, you have to bulldoze through all the barriers. You have to be a force of nature. Diana is a force of nature.”

“Nyad” is hardly hagiography. Even as it celebrates her Cuba swim, the film offers a nuanced depiction of Nyad as charismatic and fearless but also prickly, boastful and prone to self-mythologizing. In one scene, Foster’s Stoll accuses Nyad of having “a superiority complex.” In another, she teases the swimmer for exaggerating a story about a corporate sponsorship deal she once secured.

Vasarhelyi says the film is intended to be both a warts-and-all portrait of Nyad and a celebration of her determination and grit. “Diana Nyad is a complicated and extraordinary human who did something astonishing,” she says. “Self-aggrandizing? I don’t know if we’d say that if we were talking about a man. I think Diana is just not afraid to say what she thinks and talk about what she has done. That is incredibly inspiring, and I want my daughter to see that film.”

Asked about the questions over Nyad’s credibility, Vasarhelyi said, “You see it all in the film. The point is that she is unabashedly a complicated, gray character in real life, and we went to great lengths, as did Annette, to portray that in its full glory. It makes me really sad that we are scrutinizing things that happened 30 years ago and not acknowledging and celebrating the extraordinary achievement. Because I think as a society, we’ve witnessed a lot worse and celebrated a lot worse.”

With “Nyad” due to hit select theaters Oct. 20 before arriving on streaming on Nov. 3, the film’s subject finds herself caught between a public that is buoyed by her uplifting story and a marathon swimming community that doesn’t fully buy it. Faced with renewed criticism, she is alternately defiant, proud and conciliatory.


“Here we are in Tinseltown,” Nyad says, looking out at a sweeping view of the Hollywood Hills and the downtown L.A. skyline. “Bonnie and I have a number of actor friends and they’ll say to us often, ‘Diana, your type of fame has to do with something real.’ I don’t consider myself famous — I never use that word. I think I have some public respect. Ironically, less from the marathon swimming world than the rest of the world. But that’s my cross to bear. And I hope they come around to me at some point.”

She chooses to focus on the millions of people who have been moved by her story, who have lined up at book signings and speeches to tell her that her example motivated them to undertake some daunting challenge in their lives. “Does it feel good to inspire people?” she says. “Yeah, it does.”


‘A tendency to be public’

Born Diana Winslow Sneed in New York in 1949 and raised from age 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nyad possessed a sense of destiny from an early age. As she often notes, her surname — that of her stepfather, who married her mother when Diana was 3 — derives from the word naiad, the water nymph of Greek mythology.

By the mid-1970s, Nyad had made a name for herself as a distance swimmer, setting a women’s record in 1974’s 22-mile Bay of Naples race and gaining national attention the following year after she swam around Manhattan, breaking the previous record by nearly an hour.

Despite her propensity for boastfulness — “I’m the greatest,” she told the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinal in 1975 — she was not, on paper, necessarily the most accomplished distance swimmer of the time. She did not qualify for the Olympics, and her attempt to cross the English Channel in 1976 failed. But Nyad had natural star power, media savvy and soaring self-confidence to match her strength and stamina, and by the end of the decade had earned enough fame to score a spot as a guest on “The Tonight Show.”


“It’s hard to say in a sport like this who is the best, but certainly back in the 1970s, Diana was one of the best,” says Evan Morrison, who co-founded the Marathon Swimmers Federation in 2012. “She is a legit marathon swimmer and she’s done a lot. But her celebrity is disproportionate to her objective swimming achievements. People may have different opinions about who they think has accomplished more — and maybe that’s not Diana in a lot of cases. But Diana is the one who’s getting the film, and Diana is the one who gets the money and the fame.”

“I think I have a natural propensity to be a public figure,” Nyad says now. “You can tell when people are shy. Steffi Graf is the greatest woman tennis player ever and she doesn’t ever want to appear anywhere — and there’s no criticism. And Serena Williams is a born star. I think I’ve had a tendency to be public.”

A woman interviews a man, both seated on marble steps.
Diana Nyad, right, spent years in broadcasting, including on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

Nyad’s brash, larger-than-life image inspired other swimmers. “In that era, I was looking for female role models,” says former Australian marathon swimming champion Shelley Taylor-Smith. “Diana has a lot of bravado and she speaks with great authority and passion from the heart. I listened, I watched and I was mesmerized.” Of Nyad’s critics, Taylor-Smith says, “There’s always going to be the haters. Down Under, we call it ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ And I think a lot of it is unfair.”

By 1978, Nyad felt ready to try to tackle the ultimate goal she’d dreamed of since the age of 9, to swim from Cuba to Florida, and set about lining up corporate backers including NBC, Colgate and Perrier. For $10,000, the New York Post was guaranteed the rights to a four-part account Nyad would write upon completing the swim.


In a Miami Herald article headlined “The Selling of Diana Nyad” published that summer, shortly before she made her attempt, Nyad told journalist Barry Bearak, “This could set up my whole future.”

“There are greater swimmers in the world,” Nyad explained to Bearak. “But I’m the one with charisma. I have the asset of being articulate. I can get out of the water and make people interested in my story.”

Nyad said she was eager for a bigger stage on which to tell that story. “I could be a great sports announcer. ... I don’t think I’m as good on the big screen. But that doesn’t completely eliminate Hollywood,” she said to Bearak, adding, “I’ve written a screenplay about my life. It’s kind of like ‘Rocky.’ And the happy ending is the Cuba swim.”

Months later, Nyad’s Cuba attempt, in which she swam in a shark cage, failed when she drifted off course in strong winds after 42 hours of swimming, having covered 76 miles. In the 1980s, she embarked on what would become a successful career in sports broadcasting and journalism, working over the years for ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” National Public Radio and other outlets.

Asked now about her earlier Hollywood aspirations, Nyad says she does not remember harboring any. “You know, maybe — listen, I just turned 74 so I’ve said a lot of things,” she says. “I don’t remember ever thinking, ‘Oh, maybe there will be a movie about me.’ I don’t remember that being a goal of mine or a fantasy, honestly.” (She now says she did not write a screenplay in the 1970s.)


As she rose to prominence, Nyad developed a penchant for occasionally inflating her achievements that would continue for decades. A source close to the swimmer confirmed the inaccuracy of her past statements about several feats. Over the years, she repeatedly claimed she finished sixth at the 1968 Olympic trials. In fact, she never made it to the Olympic trials. In a 1997 speech she claimed to have won the U.S. Nationals at age 16 and broken the world record in the 100-meter backstroke. Neither occurred. In her 2015 memoir, she wrote of being “the first woman to swim around Manhattan,” when, in fact, she was the seventh. (In an earlier memoir published in 1978, Nyad had named two of her predecessors.)

Slosberg, who set a record in 1978 for the fastest double crossing of the Catalina Channel, says he was motivated to begin digging into Nyad’s claims after watching her say in a 2019 speech in Los Angeles that she was the greatest long-distance swimmer of the 1970s (a claim she also makes on her own website). “I get very emotional when I talk about this,” he says, his voice cracking. “The real best swimmers of the 1970s were and still are my friends. One of them, Penny Dean, set the English Channel world record in 1978 and held it for 16 years, and no one’s ever heard of her. She’s erasing the history of my friends.”

A seated woman speaks into a microphone next to an enlarged book cover for "Find a Way" by Diana Nyad.
Nyad wrote a popular memoir, “Find a Way.”
(Monica Schipper / FilmMagic)

Nyad avoids even uttering Slosberg’s name. “I have no intention of responding to him in any way,” she says, suggesting he seems driven by a “level of hatred I don’t understand.” Still, she now says she regrets her exaggerations.

“There’s braggadocio, which is more about attitude, and then there are misstatements,” Nyad says. “I can look back and wish I had evolved in so many ways. Am I embarrassed to have inflated my own record when my record is pretty good on its own? Yes, it makes me cringe. Some of those statements are 45 years old — there wasn’t even an internet then. But I’m human and I like to think that I’ve lived a life that now makes me proud of who I am.”


After a pause, Nyad suggests that this tendency to exaggerate her accomplishments may trace back to the sexual abuse she says she suffered from a swimming coach when she was a teenager.

“Never to explain it away, but as I look back now, it’s somebody who had some trauma as a teenager,” Nyad says of herself at that time. “And I do think that there was some level of self-aggrandizement that I resorted to, you might say as a coping mechanism. To me, it’s ancient history. And that doesn’t mean I’m proud of it. But I do believe that I’m bigger than that and I have lived an honorable life aside from all of that.”

Stoll says the Nyad she knows and loves is a fundamentally honest person. “Since grade school, I have steered away from liars,” she says. “I can’t have that characteristic in a friend of mine, and there’s no friend like this. She’s not a liar. That’s all I can say.”


‘We didn’t want an asterisk’

Among some in the marathon swimming community, questions about Nyad’s Cuba swim began virtually the moment she stepped onto the beach in Key West. At the end of similarly epic efforts, some swimmers simply collapse and can’t move, while others can’t speak because their throats are so irritated by taking in saltwater. How, some wondered, was Nyad able to walk to the microphone and give a speech?

Nyad dismisses such questions. “I find it laughable,” she says, noting that she had actually hoped to go directly into an interview with Robin Roberts on that day’s “Good Morning America” but finished her swim too late. “One of the critics said, ‘She couldn’t have swum. She looks great.’ Great? I was beat up. That’s bull—. People don’t know what they’re talking about.”


In the days that followed, the questions grew, roiling online swimming forums. Was Nyad truly unassisted for all 53 hours in the water? Why did the GPS data show her speed surging around 31 hours into the swim? Why wasn’t the entire attempt recorded on video? Were her two handpicked independent observers truly impartial?

“I’m an absolutely aboveboard person who never cheated on anything in my whole life,” Nyad told the New York Times less than a week after the swim, adding, “They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honor the accurate information.”

The debate was further muddied by the lack of clearly defined rules ahead of Nyad’s swim, which was not overseen by an official governing body. Under the usual English Channel rules for an unassisted swim, the swimmer can use no equipment besides a cap and goggles and can never be touched. Nyad had worn a specially designed suit and mask to protect her from potentially deadly jellyfish stings and had been incidentally touched by Stoll and others several times during the swim.

While some speculated Nyad could have been towed, or rested at some point on one of the five support vessels accompanying her, Steven Munatones, a former marathon swimmer who founded WOWSA and accompanied Nyad on earlier failed attempts, says he never had any doubt that she completed the swim.

“Keep in mind, the previous attempts were even more treacherous,” Munatones says. “We had tropical storms. She had three doctors working on her because she was this close to death. Each failure taught her and her crew more.” (Munatones has drawn fire from some in the swimming community for his support of Nyad and he has since parted ways with WOWSA.)


A woman in a bathing suit and swim cap jumps into the water, with several boats nearby
Nyad jumps into the water at the Ernest Hemingway Nautical Club in Havana to begin her three-day nonstop journey from Cuba to Key West.
(Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images)

Later analysis showed that Nyad had, in fact, benefited from a strong favorable current during her swim. “The [skeptics] were frankly ignorant of the realities of the Gulf Stream — it’s a wild conveyer belt of enormous energy,” says Angel Yanagihara, a research professor at the University of Hawaii who was brought onto the crew for her expertise in box jellyfish. “Diana had the good fortune of working with a great navigator and he put us right there in the sweet spot.”

For some who initially doubted the validity of Nyad’s swim, December’s independent WOWSA report — which drew on all the available data from the swim as well as interviews, crew statements, handwritten observers’ logs and hundreds of photos and videos — has resolved many lingering questions around it.

“I took a lot of abuse at the time from Diana’s fans, people threatening to hurt me on social media and things like that,” says Morrison, who was one of the early skeptics. “I may not appreciate the way she promotes herself and exaggerates her accomplishments. It bothers me aesthetically and as a marathon swimmer. But my aim has never been to tear her down. I’ve been focused on demanding appropriate documentation, and it’s frustrating that didn’t happen for nine years.”

Now, having seen the report, Morrison says, “There’s no evidence there was any kind of kind of cheating. From my perspective, according to the current standards of the sport, she did an assisted swim from Cuba to Florida.”


Others, including Slosberg, still harbor doubts. “Unless someone comes forward ... I don’t know if there’s a way to prove it,” says Slosberg, who is a retired musician. “I’ve considered consulting magicians and saying, ‘If you wanted to do this, how would you do it?’ But I don’t know.”

Nyad acknowledges she should have made public sooner all the data backing up her swim, explaining that, after 30 years away from the sport, she was unclear about the requirements for ratification and too swept up in her post-Cuba endeavors to pull it all together.

“My life after the swim was like a rocket ship, two cities a day by helicopter — it was fantastic,” she says. “I thought we had provided all the proof we needed. And maybe I had too much hubris, like, ‘I don’t need to prove this to anybody.’ That’s my bad. But it wasn’t to obfuscate the rules. We were never told, ‘You’ve got to do this or you won’t be ratified.’”

Though Nyad has insisted for years that the swim be considered unassisted, she now says she would accept ratification as an assisted swim. “We didn’t want an asterisk next to the swim,” she says. “But if anybody wants to ratify it now and stamp it assisted, we can accept it. Because we did it fair and square, no help in any way.”


‘It’s a tough sport’

Vasarhelyi and Chin, whose other documentaries include “Meru” and “The Rescue,” had been exploring the idea of taking on a narrative feature when producers Teddy Schwarzman and Andrew Lazar brought them Julia Cox’s script for “Nyad.” They say they immediately sparked to Nyad’s fierce determination to
pursue her dream after turning 60 and the physical and mental endurance it required, which resonated with their interest in boundary-pushing athletes and adventurers.


“On some level, this story is familiar to me because I’m a professional athlete and I work with a lot of the top adventure athletes in the world,” Chin says. “But I’d never seen a story with an outspoken women in her 60s who defies all the odds and has this wild dream and says it’s not over.

“The courage of that — I don’t know that people can really understand what means to take that on at that age.”

As they started work on developing the project, it didn’t take long for the filmmakers to begin to discover the full scope and intensity of the controversy about Nyad within the marathon swimming community.

“These questions were brought to our attention in many different ways, including strange emails to family members that share my last name,” says Vasarhelyi. “We’re not unfamiliar with people questioning certain feats. But we brought our most clear-eyed, stringent, ethical nonfiction backgrounds to look at it, and it really seemed irrelevant.

“Our film is not about a record. Our film is not about how many times someone was touched. It’s about how a woman woke up at 60 and realized she wasn’t finished, even though the world may be finished with her.”


Chin says similar controversies and infighting over rules and records regularly takes place in many niche sports and pursuits, including mountaineering. “When you look at an athlete pushing the boundaries of their sport, there are always armchair critics, naysayers and skeptics,” he says. “That’s just part of the deal. But there’s no question that she swam 110 miles.”

A woman swimming in the ocean
Nyad on her fifth attempt to swim across the Florida Straits in 2013.
(Ernesto Mastrascusa / Getty Images)

Some of Nyad’s defenders, including Yanagihara and Taylor-Smith, suggest that there is an undercurrent of sexism and possibly homophobia driving the criticism of her. (In a 2016 interview with Larry King, Nyad said she came out as gay to her mother when she was 21.) “

Being a strong woman has been a disadvantage when it shouldn’t be in this day and age,” says Taylor-Smith. “In my swimming career, I had faced similar discrepancies: ‘Is she on [performance-enhancing] drugs? How can she beat men?’ I was very used to the misogyny and the haters.”

Others, however, challenge that notion, pointing out that the woman many consider marathon swimming’s all-time greatest athlete, Sarah Thomas — who, in 2019, a year after undergoing treatment for breast cancer, became the first person to swim across the English Channel four times nonstop — has faced no such criticisms.


“Nyad lovers always throw back at us that we’re anti-female, anti-gay, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Howley. “I have found marathon swimming to be incredibly LGBTQ+-friendly and welcoming to older women. That is all a straw man. Just because somebody is part of a marginalized group doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions when they make extraordinary claims.”

Nyad, who offers unsolicited praise of Thomas (“I bow down to her”), says she has never experienced outright misogyny or homophobia in her career, “in part because I won’t allow it.” But she does believe much of the criticism of her comes down to jealousy on the part of other swimmers.

“It’s a tough sport,” Nyad says. “I could see if I was a swimmer who had been toiling away, swimming across Lake Tahoe, freezing, swimming across the Sea of Japan, and then this Nyad character who hasn’t been around for 30 years comes back and she’s on the front page — you know, ‘What about me?’”

Whatever the case, Nyad isn’t letting criticism deter her from her goals. Beyond the release of the film, she has other plans: publishing another memoir (her third), promoting the nonprofit EverWalk she and Stoll launched in 2016 to encourage walking for fitness, giving more motivational speeches, writing a children’s book series to inspire kids. “There’s never a lazy moment for Diana,” Stoll says. “She sleeps four hours a night. I can’t keep up with it.”

As for how the real-life Diana Nyad compares to the version that Bening plays onscreen, Nyad says, “Anybody who knows me would call me a people person. I wouldn’t get off a city bus without knowing the whole life story and the challenges, heartaches and dreams of the woman sitting next to me — and I’d have some ideas on how to get her going.


“I’m no saint, by any means. And yes, you have to be single-minded and say, ‘Don’t anybody tell me I can’t do this.’ I can admit to that and be proud of that. But those words like ‘prickly’ or ‘self-centered’ and whatnot…”

She trails off. “I don’t know,” Nyad says. “I don’t think I’m so complicated.”