I am Diana Nyad. In September 2013, I became the first person in history to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective shark cage, exposed to the deadly Box Jellyfish and the large predator sharks in those waters. I am a current candidate for National Geographics Adventurer of The Year. Ive authored three books, speak three languages, but most importantly I use my story to inspire others. I'm here today to inspire you. Ask me anything!


UPDATE: What a great variety of personalities and questions you guys posed today! I enjoyed myself thoroughly and hope to join the Reddit family at another time. Have a great day everybody!

Comments: 158 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

KimJongUnchained43 karma

As someone much younger than you who can't swim more than the length of a pool for the life of me, I think what you did is really impressive.

Anyway, what would you say to the people who claim that you faked or cheated on your swim from Cuba to Florida?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

DianaNyad49 karma

As for the critics, shortly after the swim last labor day there were some legitimate people from the legitimate marathon swimming community who had every right to vet my accomplishment. Any world class record should be researched and questioned. My team and I answered in a three-hour, 33 minute phone call with those people, every question small and large they had. Our navigator, John Bartlett, took them through mile by mile all the winds, all the currents, every inch of that swim from the Cuba shore to the Florida Shore. My head handler, Bonnie Stoll, explained to them how we fed, how we protected ourselves against the deadly box Jellyfish, how our shark team kept me safe. In the end, we proved without a shadow of a doubt that I swam without any assistance whatsoever from shore to shore.

Now, the internet is a big wide world and there are still people, I supposed, out there with their opinions questioning validity of the swim. But trust me, in the circles where it matters, and of course the 44 people on my team who witnessed and were part of this history, know the truth. We had reverence for this record and we did it fair and square.

KimJongUnchained2 karma

Thanks a ton for responding!

One quick follow-up if you'll let me:

Before the swims, did you spend very much time in cuba?

if so, what was it like? Any interesting stories?

DianaNyad24 karma

I have seen most of the world at this point and Cuba stands out as one of my favorite places on earth. I'm not the only one who has remarked that this tiny, impoverished island has produced an astounding number of artists, musicians, doctors, athletes and interesting figures. The Cubans are very poor, poorer than ever these days, yet you will never see a homeless person in Havana. They take care of each other. They dance, they smile, and even though I would venture to say most Cubans will speak outright today that they would like change. They would like cooking oil, Tylenol, asthma medicine for their children, and they have faith that those changes are coming. They adore their country and their culture.

I went there first in 1978 on my first attempt to swim across, but I've been back many many times having nothing to do with swimming. I've made many friends and I so look forward to the day when our borders open and we can go there freely and they can come visit us in the States freely too. I was there once for National Public Radio and I needed someone to speak some English for my story. I saw a dapper man on the corner, I asked him if he could speak English and he said "yes, a little bit." Well do me a favor, as a Cuban you probably know the iconic American cars of the 1950's and he said "well, yes of course. I am Cuban. I know the cars!" Okay, do me a favor, take the microphone and as you see them coming down the avenue, give me a description. In his beautiful accent he began: "As you can see, here is coming now, the Ford Fairlane from 1954, you will see the ornamentation in the hood is from the early months of 54, not the late. Now, coming is the Cadillac Seville. This car is the dream of every Cubano. This one, you will see the piping on the interior of the leather bucket seats. This car is a treasure among all the American cars." And this guy with his wonderful accent and captivating personality, described about 12 cars, the detail, the color, everything about them. Being in Havana is to be in a moving car museum. Have a nice day.

It's a story that exemplifies just how delightful Cubans are.

buster241619 karma

what is your funniest fart story?

DianaNyad124 karma

Years ago I was awarded my own talk show on CNBC. I signed the contract and WOW was I filled with self-importance that day. I walked around NYC and begged any stranger to listen to my story that I had my very own new talk show. I didn't eat much that day, with all the excitement and contract signing. I got out to JFK airport early evening and ran by a health food kiosk and picked up a bag of dried apricots. At the gate, on the plane, I was like the mayor of this flight. I shook everybody's hand, got everyone's name, and told them all that I was going to have my own talk show and they'd have to watch. I offered people dried apricots, they refused, I was hungry, I ate the whole bag. I was in coach in a last minute seat purchase in the middle of the rows with 5 seats. I don't usually tell stories like this, but since you asked...half hour after the flight takes off, large billowing emanations of gas start filling my jeans. The people next to me are wafting their magazines. Everyone in the rows close by me, wants to get up and get away from me. The flight is full, the flight attendants won't allow people to stand int he back. They urge people to get back to their seats. I tried to pretend it was other people. I looked at the man in front of me and raised my hands as if he was doing it. For six hours of that interminable flight from NY to LA, I filled that cabin with dried apricot farts. You have never seen a group of people move so fast to get off an airplane as when that landed. The lesson of this story is, if you get your own talk show don't feel so darn important about it.

Helen_A_Handbasket16 karma

Diana, regarding your interview on Oprah where she made the ignorant and incredibly insulting claim that you aren't really an atheist simply because you can experience awe, joy, and wonder in the world...how did that make you feel? Because if that had been me, I would have wanted to get up, tell Oprah flat out that she has no idea what an atheist is, and walk out. Hell, I wanted to reach through the tv and smack her upside the head.

DianaNyad30 karma

So many people, friends and strangers, remarked to me after the Oprah interview that they were annoyed at how she handled the aethiest segment of our conversation. but I didn't see it that way at the time. I felt Oprah was thoroughly engaged in an equal-minded, equal-hearted rapport. It's not only Oprah who has the misconception that an aethiest cannot come to tears over the magnificence of this universe. Over the love that we feel and express for each other. So yes, she was a bit surprised or taken aback to hear an aethiest say she's in awe of the planet and the life we get to live, but she loved the fact that I put it that way.

teaseapea14 karma

Tyr or Speedo?

DianaNyad20 karma


BM_FUN10 karma

Do you like Superman or Aquaman?

DianaNyad38 karma


errant_penguin9 karma

What motivated you to complete your epic swim, even after several tries and (if I recall correctly) claiming you wouldn't try again at least once?

If Susie Maroney hadn't already completed the swim with a shark cage, would you have used one?

DianaNyad22 karma

Listen, I have high regard for Susie Marony. Terrific Australian swimmer, terrific person. But the point about a shark cage, which non marathon swimmers don't understand, is that any heavy structure like that moving forward at even a slow pace of under 2 miles per hour. Causes swirling eddies to form along the side of the cage and as the cage moves forward, those eddies sweep around the back of the cage and start pushing the cage forward. So anyone swimming in a hard shell cage or jelly fish nettings, are going to get a push from the back at least twice than their swimming speed, sometimes three times faster. The reason why my swim is called, "The First Person to Swim from Cuba to Florida without a Shark Cage" isn't really to make the point that our team was willing to take the risk of being attacked by a shark out there, though that risk was certainly in play. The reason we qualified this swim as without a shark cage is because we had no assistance in moving forward faster than my own ability. I just didn't want an asterisk next to my name on this record and a shark cage would have required that asterisk.

miamiheat138 karma

You are an inspiration to athletes everywhere. As a marathon runner, I've always had to find myself overcoming a "wall". For you, what was the point that you felt you reached your limit? Did the swim every feel hopeless and unreachable?

DianaNyad18 karma

Like you, all endurance athletes of course hit walls. By definition, mountain climbers, marathon runners, we all know that these events are filled with peaks and valleys. The disparate valleys would always seem to come around the 40 hour mark and those valleys seems to be more mental than physical. I couldn't concentrate anymore. I couldn't remember who I was, what I was doing, why I was suffering. When you feel reality slipping out of your grasp, it's not fun. You're set in stone determination starts to wane because you're not able to keep the perspective of how far you've gone, why you're feeling this way, what you have to keep yourself together to keep going. I wouldn't say that I ever wanted to quit. I don't think I ever said those words to Bonnie, my head handler. But I certainly was in trouble this last successful cuba swim on the second night. So again, I had been going 38-40 hours and I was just hanging on by a thread. It's not that my muscles weren't strong anymore. They were. But, my brain wasn't calculating what was going on anymore. I was in the midst of some hypothermia and I think I was just plain sleep deprived. So, just like a boxer in the corner who's been flattened out on his back and somehow made it through the round and is now foggy brained, his corner man has to judge by his eyes, by his responses, if he's capable to get back up again for the next round and Bonnie is the person that I trust on my boat when I'm losing the thread like that to decide if I'm in danger of losing some brain function permanently, or if I've got something left, and she'll be able to coax me for a few more strokes, and a few more miles. And all of a sudden you're not in that valley anymore, you're climbing up toward that peak and feeling good again.

Room5595 karma

What do you consider your proudest accomplishment outside of swimming?

DianaNyad20 karma

When I die (not that I would be buried in an old style cemetery) the reading on the headstone I would want is, "You've never known a friend as loyal and as steadfast as Diana Nyad." The friends in my life stand up and make toasts on birthdays and holidays and say to the crowd, "You don't know what a friend is until you've known what a friend Diana is." And honestly, I don't know that I'm prouder of anything I've ever done than the way I've conducted myself with the closest people in my life.

d0ntp4n1c9 karma

Fuck its refreshing to hear someone of "celebrity" status say that. A good friend is hard to find in this day and age. I honestly don't follow any sports so I can't say your a speaker for whatever but seeing someone with a recognized talent say something like this moves me. I value loyalty above all else in my life and just wanted to thank you for spreading that word.

DianaNyad19 karma

You know, the truth is, maybe it's my age. I'm 64 now and those societal pats on the back, being feted at black-tie dinners, and inducted into halls of fame. When I was younger, i just lived and died by all those awards and accolades. Frankly, today they don't mean a thing. It's people, your loyalty to those people and the quality time spent with those people. That's all there is. Or maybe to say it better, as the Beatles put it, "Love is all there is."

mehday2day5 karma

Hi Diana, not a question, just a comment. My son was terrified of swimming and after 2 years of lessons he still couldn't. Knowing it's an important life skill, I encouraged him each time we went to another lesson. We watched your epic swim together online (I think it was the threat of sharks that first interested him), and a month later he decided (with no prodding since I didn't even know there was a team) to join the swim team. He's earned 9 ribbons including 2 first places in his first season, and when I asked what changed his mind about swimming, he just said "I dunno, I guess Diana Nyad sort of inspired me." He is 9 years old. THANK YOU.

DianaNyad5 karma

It always touches my heart to see that kids know what we did and it meant something to them. I actually have a 9-year-old friend, a boy, who cried his eyes out when I made it to the beach. People think of me as something of an inspiration to my generation, the baby boomers, and i'm certainly happy to take on that role but I just love it when kids get what sticking with something means. They get what it is to have a goal, to have a dream and that the only way they're going to get there is to not give up. So to hear that your son took something from me in his own life and was able to achieve something he couldn't before means the world.

ottersmash3 karma

Diana, thank you so much for swinging by here today. You are an inspiration!

James Pipkin speaks towards your ability to disassociate during your marathon swims. Can you describe the mental process you undergo in your own words? Also, what do you think about when you are swimming these incredible distances?


DianaNyad14 karma

The brain phases in and out of two processes during these ultra marathon swims, anything over forty hours. On one hand, there's a concrete focus directed by your will to somehow keep your mind occupied, counting, singing, tripping out on the meaning of the universe. All that is somewhat pleasant and you're under control. But, you can't help in this severe state of sensory deprivation, eyes fogged over, ears covered with several layers of swim caps, of dissociating from reality. You see things that just aren't there, you think things are happening that just can't be happening. I thought in Argentina, back in my 20s in a long swim along the coast there, that a flock of seagulls were dive bombing my head, piercing my forehead with their beaks. I reached up and felt the blood, the gashes, but the truth is, there were no birds, there were no gashes. I found out that I had been hallucinating. So sometimes your mind is in a uniquely happy place to be out there in that vast blue ocean with nothing but your own thoughts. Sometimes, to lose control of your will-power is frightening and that's where your team on the boat, your handlers, help you snap back to reality.

starducks242 karma

I don't think enough attention has been given to the fact that you trained for 4 years for Cuba to Florida and I never knew of youb taking off any time for injuries or illness. Are you really that healthy? It is amazing.

DianaNyad8 karma

When I got back to training for this modern era version of the Cuba swim, I literally had not swum a stroke in 30 years. From age 30 to 60. I had been in what you call superlative shape, but I was no longer a swimmer. And swimming doesn't really translate to other exercises and sports so wow, those first few months were hell on the shoulders. I saw one orthopedist who told me my biceps tendon in the left shoulder was shredded. I didn't like his diagnosis, so I went to somebody else. Second guy says the same thing and says there is no way you are going to even training much less the big swim itself. So I went to a third person to try and get an answer I liked better than these guys. The third person said that with a lot of ice and a lot of physical therapy, I just might scoot around having to have surgery. My car, my bedroom, my kitchen, my TV room, my office, became cryogenics labs. I had ice packs of every shape, every description everywhere. If I wasn't swimming I had ice bags packed on my shoulders. Ice, the miracle drug. So, yes, the first three years of these four years, 2010 through this past year of training and attempting Cuba, were very tough on the shoulders. I think just by not making it those three long swims and all the training, by the time i got to 2013, the shoulders were like Superwoman. I felt like I could walk through a brick wall, but I was worried to the point of paranoid a few times. 2010, 2011, 2012 because of the incredible strain on the shoulders. I also ruptured the biceps down near the elbow in 2011. My whole biceps bruised up in a giant swelling mass. That of course freaked me out, but the top physical therapist in Los Angeles, Karen Joubert, convinced me that some ice and some rest and a little bit of manipulation would get me through that, and it did.

snoodleflap2 karma

would you consider yourself a humble person?

DianaNyad6 karma

When I was younger, and maybe this is true of most young people, I was very black and white. These days, I live in more shades of grey. On the one hand, there's power in being confident. I've noticed that women often say to me that they found it so refreshing that I expressed my confidence and my courage even on a talk show or in an interview. They need to think highly of themselves and there's nothing wrong with knowing how capable you are. But lets face it, the universe is bigger than any one of us, the ocean is certainly more powerful than I am. There are people who are more intelligent, more accomplished than I am. So it would be ridiculous of me, along with being confident, not also to be humble and know that I certainly have a lot to learn.

Aprilsliv771 karma

Your story is remarkable. What is it inside of you that had pushed you to the point where you were able to continue to pursue the Cuba to Florida swim? What is it that you felt inside that force, that strive? How do you mentally prepare for something so historic? What exactly did you feel the moment you came out of the water in Florida after your historic swim?

DianaNyad6 karma

Flat out I didn't want to be a person who gave up. I didn't want to be timid, afraid. I wanted to be bold. Honestly, of course the destination was the dream. To get there. To get to that other shore. But during training, all of 2013, all that really moved me was being bold and not giving up on the pursuit itself: The journey.

What's funny is, during so many of the grueling long hours of training, I had imagined just what I would say when I finally, after 35 years of envisioning it, got to that Florida shore. But then, it didn't happen that way. I never expected thousands of people and their emotions and their energy. People were crying. People were screaming out. This meant a lot to them. This wasn't an endurance record, a sports moment, this was a life moment and they felt it and I felt it. I was pretty much dazed when I walked up on that beach to that particular reception. So, it turns out I did say a could of things starting with, "Never, ever give up" and then, "You're never to old to chase your dreams" and third, "It looks like solitary sport, but believe me it's a team." But the truth is, I didn't have those things in my mind at all when I got to the beach. I think what was happening at that moment was that my heart was filled with pride, that I never let go of the dream no matter how difficult it was, how crushing the failures were, and my team stayed with me through all those years to finally have our moment in the sun.

omahonydonnelly1 karma

You are an inspiration to many. Who have been role models for you, now and when you were younger, and why?

DianaNyad6 karma

I think every interview I have seen with a well known person includes the question, who do you admire? And of course, especially as a sports journalist there are people whose discipline and talents I admire tremendously. Martina Navratilova is one, Peyton Manning is another. But really the people I admire in life aren't famous or wealthy. The people I admire are the ones who engage in their communities who have a sense of right and wrong. Many stories have been written about a Mexican woman who was sick and tired of the drug cartel making her village a frightening place to live. The mayor had been killed in the drug war and this young mother took over! She put a barricade around the town, not allowing anyone who didn't live there to come in after dark. In the end she was killed too. But for some period of time, this brave young woman stood up and made her community safer.

GabrielBonilla0 karma

Are you proud of the sacrifices you made in your lifetime?

DianaNyad4 karma

I've been very lucky and traveled all the world. Spent time in tribal villages in Borneo, lived in Paris, swam with whales in Antarctica, and I find in the end that most people share the same simple values. We want to feel we're part of our community.We want to give love and take love. We want to eat and dance and be happy. And then, I do believe it's part of the human condition to tap our potential. People need to feel that they have talents and that people appreciate their talents. So, I have made sacrifices. I'm not going to compare them to other people in war for example. People who are truly destitute for example. I've been very privileged and very comfortable through most of my life. But the discipline, for instance giving up pretty much a normal childhood of elementary, junior high and high school because I wanted to be a champion swimmer, has been much more rewarding (for me anyway) than just sitting around and hanging out. I see children who are bored, who really have nothing more than their electronic gadgets to play with, who aren't out in nature, who aren't building communities of friendship and don't have goals, and I see them depressed. What a horrible thing to see a nine-year-old down and depressed because all he does is hang out. So i think sacrifices, however you want to categorize them, giving up a little bit of comfort, having a vision and deciding you're going to pursue that vision and sacrifice the comforts of life is the stuff of inspiration. Sacrifice is a good thing to a degree.

PapiQuAke0 karma

My teacher talked about you before, you're an inspiration!

Would you ever plan to do something bigger than what you have accomplished?

DianaNyad0 karma

Every day, someone who doesn't know me asks excitedly "What's next? What's your next swim? It was so exciting following that tracker as you swam across from Cuba." Well, I realized that and there's a part of me who wants to feel that adrenaline surge again too. But, that swim wasn't just a couple of days for me, it was years. It would be so disingenuous of me to conjure up some other ocean dream. It was always Cuba, nothing but Cuba, and now, my task is to live that kind of adrenaline, to continue to tap my potential in the same sort of intense, bold way that I went about Cuba. So I'm writing a book. I want it to be a moving memoir, hopefully inspiring to people. I will continue to do the swims in New York City to raise money for various charities. And I have a big idea, an idea of an epic event for 2016...but that's a secret for the moment.

MoneyIsTiming-1 karma

How do you cope with or accept death?

DianaNyad11 karma

I'm not so concerned with death as I am with living a good life before death comes around. Even as a child I remember feeling the anxiety of the days passing too quickly. Death is inevitable. We're lucky if we don't suffer. We're lucky if we don't die too young. But what's the point, unless of course you're facing a fatal cancer or you've undergone some terrible accident and death truly is imminent. But as an abstract, the point of life is not to contemplate death. The point is to make these fleeting days teem with quality. My goal is to get to the end of this life with no regrets.