‘NYAD’ True Story: What to Know About Diana Nyad, the Real Swimmer Behind the Netflix Movie


Nyad, which began streaming on Netflix today, is arguably the feel-good sports drama of the year.

Starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, the biopic is based on the true story of a swimmer who finally achieved her life’s dream—swimming from Cuba to Florida—at the ripe age of 64. Is it a cheesy, clichéd film about never giving up on your dreams? Sure! But it’s also very good. And it’s hard to argue with the facts: This isn’t a story made up by Hollywood writers trying to profit off your tears. (That came after!) This is real life.

That said, Nyad is still the Hollywood version of real life, so not everything is 100 percent true. Read on to learn more bout the Nyad true story, how accurate the Nyad movie is, and where Diana Nyad is today.

Is the Nyad movie based on a true story?

Yes. NYAD is based on the true story of Diana Nyad (Annette Bening in the movie), a long-distance swimmer who achieved her life’s dream of swimming from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida in 2013 when she was 64 years old. It was a swim she first attempted in 1978 in her 20s, but was unable to complete. Then, at age 60, she was inspired to try again.

It wasn’t easy. It took Nyad four more tries, but each attempt until the last were cut short by health issues, jellyfish stings, storms, and more. Nyad herself has told her story many times before, as a motivational speaker at events, on talk shows, on her website and blog, in her 2016 memoir Find a Way (which was the basis for the script), and in the 2013 documentary, The Other Shore, which was written and directed by her nephew. You’ll be able to purchase that documentary on Apple TV+ beginning on November 10, if you’re looking for a “just the facts” version of the story. However, the documentary was completed before Nyad made her successful fifth attempt to do the swim.

How accurate is the Nyad movie to the true story?

Like most movies based on a true story, some details in Nyad have been cut, changed, or added to the real story in order to make for a more compelling film. (According to the film’s press notes, the real Diana Nyad even penned her own script for the movie, at one point.) Here are the biggest changes in the movie.

In real life, Nyad’s second attempt to do the Cuba swim was cut short after 29 hours due to pain in her shoulder and a flare-up in her asthma. In the movie, the script changes that detail to suggest that a medic gave Nyad a medication she was allergic to, causing a reaction. In real life, Nyad was stung by jellyfish on both her third and fourth attempts. But in the movie, this is only highlighted as the reason she stopped on the third attempt. (Storms were also a factor in the real-life failed fourth attempt, although in the movie this is presented as the main obstacle, rather than a factor.)

Though it is not shown in the movie, there were brief moments during her fifth and final successful attempt in which Nyad allowed brief moments of touching from her team, which is technically not allowed under “English Channel Rules.” This has come up many times from those who doubt Nyad’s achievement. In the record-setting sports world, in which everyone wants to be a “first,” it’s common for this type of scrutiny to come up. However, as Nyad writes on her website, “We didn’t do this swim under English Channel Rules.” The swimmer explained on her website that her manager, Bonnie Stoll, wrapped her ankles that became exposed during the swim to protect her from dangerous jellyfish stings.

“I held each leg, then each arm, up and tread water while Bonnie wrapped the ankles and wrists with duct tape,” Nyad wrote. “I never held onto the boat for this operation.” Nyad also clarified that while she put her stinger suit on by herself, a shark diver helped her zip it up from behind. Still, as Nyad wrote, “no exit from the water, no flotation aid, no forward propulsion aid was used” during her nearly 53-hour-long swim. Is that not impressive enough?

Finally, the NYAD movie cut a significant number of people who helped the swimmer achieve her dream. Though we see only a handful of people on the boat, in reality, there were 40 people on her crew, accompanying her on the swim in various boats. That said, even though it’s not seen in the film, co-directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin are highlight the team in the end-credits “where are they now” title cards.

In an interview for the official NYAD press notes, Chin said, “There were some differences with what is onscreen, the largest being we had to reduce the cast and the characters that were surrounding Diana. In reality, there was a much larger support group, but in terms of telling the story for screen, that was tightened to that one boat and the crew on that one boat. Still, it was very important we not lose the spirit and the feeling around that swim in the process.”

Vasarhelyi agreed, and added, “You see nods to the broader group within the historical footage we’ve included,” continues Vasarhelyi. “We felt strongly about using the historical footage in the film as a way to give weight to the story and the broader team.”

Does Diana Nyad have a romantic partner?

Nyad is out as a lesbian, and has been for many years. She even spoke on a panel, “Breaking the Silence: Gays and Lesbians in Professional Sports,” at New York’s Lincoln Center back in 1999, where she spoke about being sexually assaulted by her coach, Jack Nelson. However, though she has a very strong bond with her friend and training partner Bonnie Stoll—her best friend of thirty years—it’s a platonic relationship.

Nyad keeps her private life private and has not been public about any romantic relationship she is in. She previously dated television executive Nina Lederman, but today the two are just friends.

Where is Diana Nyad now?

Diana Nyad is still alive at the age of 74 and helped to consult on the film. She spent ample time with Bening and even helped when it came to instructing Bening on swimming techniques and was impressed by the actor’s work ethic. In an interview for the NYAD press notes, the real Nyad said, “[Bening] showed exemplary endurance. She worked for a year to get ready for this, and it showed. Bonnie and I are both just over the moon that these are the two actresses playing us.”

According to a 2014 New Yorker profile, Nyad lives in Los Angeles with her dog Teddy. She occasionally shares posts on her Twitter page.

Where is Bonnie Stoll from Nyad now?

Stoll and Nyad are still good friends to this day. And Stoll, like Nyad, spent a lot of time with the actor playing her on screen. In the same press notes interveiw, Stoll remembered her first meeting with Jodie Foster, saying, “She had me read for her so that she could get my voice intonations. I am not good at sitting, but I sat with her for hours. No one else could get me to sit for that long! And we remain good friends.”

“The second I met her, I felt like it was just an instinct,” says Foster of Stoll. “I just knew that there was some- thing about her calm and about her salt of the earth quality. She’s the kind of person you’d want to be in a storm with, who gets incredibly calm and takes care of things. I felt that she had this really big emotional well inside but was very good at taking care of other people her whole life. That, to me, is interesting—people that have a lot of hidden vulnerabilities and are taking care of other people and yet aren’t the ones that are usually taken care of.”

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