To casual sports observers, Diana Nyad’s reputation looms large in the world of extreme long-distance swimming. Though it’s a niche sport, at least some percentage of Netflix subscribers had probably heard of her before they clicked play on the biopic about her supposedly historic swim. The film opens and closes with real footage of Nyad, both in the water and in TV appearances, as broadcasters rattle off a list of her accomplishments, including her record-breaking swims from Capri to Naples and around the island of Manhattan.
But to the athletes who actually compete in open water marathon swims, she’s a highly controversial figure. That’s because she’s been caught exaggerating or outright fabricating details about her swimming career. There’s even a website dedicated to debunking the mythology she’s built around herself (or so its proprietors claim). Nyadfactcheck.com disputes her assertions that she ever won a national swimming event, broke a world record, or participated in the Olympic trials. It also takes issue with some of her more qualitative statements, such as the idea that she was “the best ocean swimmer in the world.”
Nyad did own up to her tendency to embellish the truth in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Am I embarrassed to have inflated my own record when my record is pretty good on its own? Yes, it makes me cringe,” she said. The film hints at her self-aggrandizing with anecdotes about, for example, her sponsorship deals, but it doesn’t address any of the mistruths about her swimming resume head-on.