“Swimming was the only place I felt safe”
After the success of the WIGS network’s ongoing series of fictional shorts, Jon Avnet, Rodrigo García, and their partners decided to delve into the documentary realm as well. Keeping true to their goal of showcasing tales featuring empowering women, it’s no surprise an athlete like Diana Nyad was chosen as their first entry’s subject. A sixty-year old World Record holder in marathon swimming, Diana tells her story of suffering, accolades, and the hope of achieving immortality.
Documentarian Sandra Keats makes the right choice in telling this motivational saga through Nyad’s own narration. Despite beginning with familial legends of her Greek/Egyptian father explaining the destiny held in a name—Naiad (in classic mythology): a water nymph said to inhabit a river, spring, or waterfall—and her youthful desire to be the best, the film could easily have fallen prey to convention by devolving into a piece solely describing sexual abuse at the hands of a coach. Rather than see it all as a product of this horrible tragedy and her survival, however, Nyad mentions it once in the context of her timeline and later about how her need to prove she wasn’t a victim in her twenties only burned her out. She refused to let this incident become her legacy.
No, this natural born swimmer’s ambitious intentions were to swim from Cuba to Florida. Such a goal wasn’t for the accolades—she already held multiple records like being the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island—but instead to do something unique with the ability to make herself proud. With so many laps under her belt at age 28, however, a failed attempt saw her go from North Bimini Island in the Bahamas to Florida and no further—retiring from the sport completely afterwards. Like any champion unfulfilled, Nyad’s sabbatical from the water did eventually end thirty years later on her sixtieth birthday. Realizing time was disappearing, she needed to try again and to complete what she knew was possible deep down inside.
A daunting task without the grueling physical effort she’d need to endure—her logistics team of nutritionists, scientists, and handlers increase the price tag to around $300,000—Keats makes sure to educate us on all the dangerous Nyad faces. Between allergic reactions to medication, shark-infested waters, and the invisible but deadly box jellyfish floating in her way, it’s amazing this sixty-two year old can still move let alone train for a third attempt at completion this summer. Determination is etched on her weathered face, screaming for one last dip in the water after going 39 and 41 hours respectively in the previous two failed opportunities. With stalwart friend/motivator Bonnie Stoll pushing her forward and the engineers at FINIS Inc. diligently manufacturing a suit to protect from jellyfish barbs, this is her best chance to accomplish the mission.
And while scenes are added in to try and show a softer side to Nyad with her dogs, the real meat to Diana comes from her scarred, battered, and motionless body floating in the water when unable to go further. A woman who was swimming six hours a day at age sixteen and who counts her strokes in sets ranging amongst the thousands through different languages, it’s a wonder she has the strength to keep going. Leaving the pain of her abuse and all the angry races and prideful records that went with it behind, Nyad has finally found the ability to swim purely for joy. It may have taken three decades, but the drive for victory and fearless will to not give up carries her forward during this self-proclaimed “prime of her life”. You don’t get more motivational than that.
 image of Diana Nyad courtesy of her blog