Diana Nyad

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Diana Nyad was born in 1949 in New York City. When she was three, her parents divorced and her mother married Aristotle Nyad, a Greek-Egyptian land developer who subsequently adopted Diana, and ultimately played a powerful role in her life.

Diana began swimming seriously in the seventh grade. She soon became a top swimmer, winning three Florida high school championships in the backstroke. Diana set her sights on the 1968 Olympics; but in 1966, a rare type of heart infection called endocarditis slowed her times and canceled her quest for Olympic gold. Undaunted, Diana looked for new challenges – like parachuting out a fourth-story dormitory window at Emory University. The stunt got Diana kicked out of Emory, and ultimately changed the course of her life, because she next enrolled at Lake Forest College in Illinois, and it was there that she was introduced to long distance swimming by Buck Dawson, director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Diana’s first distance race was in July 1970, a 10-mile swim in Lake Ontario. She set a women’s record for the event. Five years later, Diana swam around Manhattan Island. But that was a casual paddle compared to her next challenge.

In 1978, Diana attempted what is known as ‘the Mount Everest of Earth’s oceans’ – the 111-mile swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida. But whereas around 2,700 people have successfully scaled Everest, no one had ever swum unassisted (including no shark cage) from Cuba to Florida. On her first attempt, after 42 hours in the water, Diana was forced to abandon her quest. Spoiler alert: she didn’t give up. In 2013, at the age of 64, 35 years after her initial try, Diana became the first person ever to complete the treacherous swim unassisted.

Back on dry ground, Diana has published four books, and written for many publications including the New York Times, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Newsweek magazine. Proudly lesbian, Diana has also spoken candidly about the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her high school swim coach, and has become a leader in the #MeToo movement. She gives motivational talks around the world, and is currently passionately involved with her best friend Bonnie in a new initiative called EverWalk, ‘the biggest walking initiative in America.’ 

On the day of Diana’s OUTWORDS interview in Los Angeles in December 2017, she charges into the room talking and doesn’t stop until she’s out the door. But in the moment when she pauses to have her portrait taken, there’s a beguiling, inviting warmth to Diana’s gaze, and her skin is wonderfully, richly creased. All her time in the water taught Diana a lot about her soul – and she shares her hard-earned wisdom generously and vibrantly with the world.
Diana Nyad: [00:00:00] I want to live a life. I want to live a good life and I'm going to find a way to do it and it won't happen with me thinking someone's going to ride through town and save me, I gotta do it myself, you know?
Mason Funk: Right.
Diana Nyad: That's, not to beat a dead horse with it, but that's my message, you know?
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Definitely. I had dinner with my ... I have an older brother and an older sister here in LA. I haven't always because my sister went to college back East and got married and was married for 30 years. Then she wanted to go places in her life and her husband didn't want to go, so the marriage came to an end and now she lives out here.
My older brother had the flip story. He had a perfect marriage which all fell apart. Now he's ended up in a studio apartment in Venice where were talking about how in our family how we're just all really driven. We talked about that dance between being driven.
I remember one time, I don't even know if I ever told you this story, I was on the 10 freeway going west for some reason and I happened to see you in the car next to me and you were reading the New York Times in your seat.
Diana Nyad: [00:01:00] Oh great. Yeah. Yeah. Safety first. Yeah.
Mason Funk: But I was like if you take the word, driven, which is a bit of clich, but you are in that spirit, you are one of those people who every day, every time that I see you it feels like you are gobbling up the minutes.
Diana Nyad: Yeah. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Because you've got a lot of places to go and a lot of things to do and you don't want to just waste any time.
Diana Nyad: [00:01:30] Yeah. You know the great thing about ... I'm 68 now and I don't pretend to be any other age, but I'm sure that there comes a tipping point, I mean, will I feel the same at 98? But I still have plenty of vigor. I'm in good shape, so all of this drive has turned more toward the outside world.
I'm not so internally, "I've got to be this and I've got to do this. I've got to achieve this." That was a younger version, and slowly but surely because you mature, you get this awe of this planet we live on and you get this appreciation of others and what they want to do.
Diana Nyad: [00:02:00] You know, I took this out of my pocket because it was dragging the coat down a bit, but I'm worried it's going to slip off the seat. Let me see if I can put it behind me or something.
Do you know there's a sport of marathon swimming? I know you still got the fire in the belly. It wasn't like, "Oh I'll choose this." It wasn't. I'm sure it was out there but I didn't know that.
Mason Funk: One door closed before the other door opened?
Diana Nyad: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah definitely.
Mason Funk: Interesting.
Kate Kunath: [crosstalk].
Diana Nyad: What Kate? What is wrong? What's happening over there?
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Let me have a quick glance, but I think the answer to your question is, no. I think it was fine. Oh what, that back there?
Kate Kunath: Yeah, just overall.
Mason Funk: No. I think it's great. We should go.
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Mason Funk: And that's my stock answer, "It looks great, we should go."
Diana Nyad: Yeah, yeah. Let's not today. We could go to perfection here and it's good enough.
Mason Funk: Yeah. What we typically do, you can just start speeding whenever you're ... or if you're speeding already.
Kate Kunath: Speed is up.
Diana Nyad: [00:03:00] And forgive me while you're talking I might occasionally sniff a little just to clear myself up. I apologize.
Mason Funk: That's fine. That's fine. So do me a favor, start just for the record, give us your name. First and last, spell it out. Tell us your birth date and place.
Diana Nyad: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Diana Nyad, D-I-A-N-A N-Y-A-D. August 22nd, 1949. New York City.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kate Kunath: You can also put your elbows on the table if that's more comfortable.
Diana Nyad: We'll see.
Mason Funk: Okay. Yeah, just feel free to move. Right?
Diana Nyad: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Where we typically start, where I typically start is, I always ask people, just tell me about your family origin? You've talked about that a lot, but I wonder if you could still give us a little thumbnail of your mom and your dad, who they were and what the values in your family were that were promoted from an early age?
Diana Nyad: [00:04:00] Without sounding ungrateful, I wound up for good reasons not believing in that old adage of, "Blood is thicker than water." My friendships have drawn me much closer to people than my family. In part, it's because I had a mother whom I understood much later in life, my life, had been abandoned as a child and so she wasn't the warmest, cuddliest mother.
Diana Nyad: [00:04:30] She used to call to me like most kids have a mother who comes in and reads with you in bed, or comes in and at least kisses you goodnight. She would stand at the door and call over, she was French and she would call over, "Bonsoir chrie." So that's kind of tender, "Goodnight darling."
I remember that and later we called each other, chrie and we found each other, but my mother was remote, somewhat cold. There wasn't a lot of hugging. There was never a dinner, never a dinner. Us kids, there were three kids, would go to the cabinets to find bowls of cereal.
Diana Nyad: [00:05:00] So I don't mean to profess hardship. Most people have suffered more than I have, but it wasn't a close mothering. Then I had a father who was on one hand, larger than life, entertaining. He was a Greek who was raised in Egypt, who spoke many foreign languages. He wore a white dinner jacket with the best of them.
Diana Nyad: [00:05:30] People used to think he looked like Omar Sharif. He was handsome, he was funny, he was a liar, he was a professional thief that wound up not allowed back in the United States anymore. So as a kid you can tell these stories later and they sound entertaining, "Oh I had a French mother and a foreign father and they spoke French together."
Diana Nyad: [00:06:00] We knew museums. We went to Europe, but the home life wasn't that stable, trusting. I didn't learn about what menstruation was, I didn't eat meals. I'd go to my friend's homes, especially my Jewish friends and Italian friends who'd have all this warmth of a mother cuddling you, and sitting on a dad's lap, and eating big meals where everybody's talking.
Again, I'm not going to paint it as hardship, but I think very early on, I mean even before double digits, I think as a kid at seven, eight, those ages, I was looking to get out and create my own family somewhere else, and I did.
Mason Funk: [00:06:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative). Can you tell that story about your dad giving you the sense of being a champion at a very specific moment in time? How he did that and what that meant to you?
Diana Nyad: My father, as much of bad guy as he was, got us in trouble, ran with the Mob. We were threatened, had to move our home several times.
Diana Nyad: [00:07:00] My mother finally divorced him because she was madly in love with him, he was easy to be in love with, but he was causing all kinds of even illegal, dangerous activity around our home and she finally divorced him. But there were and I tend to as I get older, as I do about all of life, try to pluck out the positive memories and what I got from both my mom and my dad.
Diana Nyad: [00:07:30] My father spoke with a very thick buzzing z's, rolling r's accent which was part of his charm. When I turned five, the very day of my fifth birthday he called me into the den and he had Webster's, big, fat unabridged dictionary open. He had his hands on the pages, tears were standing in his eyes but he was more than dramatic, he was histrionic, so that wasn't something new, tears in the eyes, that could come over the color red on the sidewalk.
Diana Nyad: [00:08:00] So he had tears in his eyes and he called me to, "Darling you are coming here. I have been waiting for this day for you to turn five, because today is the day you are, darling you are going to understand the most important thing I will ever tell you. Come here. Your name, my name, the name of my people, darling, my people, it is in the bold black and white, the important book, the dictionary. You will go to your little play school tomorrow darling.
Diana Nyad: [00:08:30] You will ask your little friends, is their name in the dictionary? They will tell you, 'No' you are the only one. Come here. I'm going to read for you. 'Nyad, in Greek mythology, my people, the nymphs that swam in the lake, rivers, ocean and fountain to protect for the gods.' Definition number two, this is the special one for you darling, 'Nyad, girl or woman champion swimmer.
Diana Nyad: [00:09:00] 'Oh my god, this is your destiny darling." So I tell that story with a little bit of, what would you call it? Latter-day poetry because truthfully do I remember every word he said that way? I'm sure not, but I do remember being dragged in. I do remember my name being in the dictionary. I do remember asking friends if their names were in the dictionary.
Diana Nyad: [00:09:30] I do remember thinking, " Wow, this is who I'm supposed to be. What I'm supposed to be." And of course, I wasn't I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was swimming somewhere but not like dreaming of being a champion. The way I put it is, and as far as I know, this is true to history, is that I didn't know what destiny meant, and I'd become a person who doesn't believe in destiny whatsoever, but I heard the word, champion, that sounded good.
Diana Nyad: [00:10:00] I started walking around with my shoulders high. I start telling everybody I met, "I'm a champion and I'm supposed to be champion, that's who I am. That's what my name means." Now it turns out that my name is an apt eponym and people it's like Dr. Brain, if he becomes a neurosurgeon he has become what his name is and I became this champion swimmer.
Diana Nyad: [00:10:30] So it was all, if not destiny, it was a delightful connection or circumstance.
Mason Funk: I can't remember, I knew you had a brother, you have a sister as well.
Diana Nyad: Yeah.
Mason Funk: So did he ever connect to her on that same level or was it because you had already shown some passion or some love for the water? Was that was kind of made it click for him?
Diana Nyad: I don't think so. I mean, I wasn't showing any more passion for the ocean than my brother or sister. We used to live in a town where the ocean was right there, so that's where we went to play,
Diana Nyad: [00:11:00] So I don't think I showed any great strength or promise as a swimmer. I didn't think, "I'm going be a swimmer." I think it was just his name in the dictionary, it was more than that, it was more the egocentricity of his name than it was of mine.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Now, you later told stories about how as a 10-year-old, you were, that word we were using earlier, driven. You were pedal to the metal about whatever you took on.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] One of the values that I see in these stories is other people reading stories like yours and going, "Oh my God, that's me too." So for a 10-year-old out there who just feels different from his or her classmates or friends, not because of sexual orientation, but because they are so passionate about wanting to do something, or be something, or go somewhere, can you talk about what that felt like and what the manifestations were of you being that driven 10-year-old? What did your life look like at that time?
Diana Nyad: [00:12:00] I think the drive started earlier than 10. I don't have kids, but all parents I know say, "Oh have you met my 40-year-old son here? Well you'll see his personality. He's wide awake. He's like he has energy. He wants to get up early. He's going in every direction. He's helping people. Well if you had seen him at 18 months old in his crib, that was him.
Diana Nyad: [00:12:30] Now my other son here, he's 38-years-old." So I'm making up this now, "but had you seen him in his crib you would have seen a placid, easy-going, peace, love, don't rock the boat kind of guy., that's his personality." So you know, clearly we're all complicated. I did go through sexual abuse as a kid and then again as a teenager.
Diana Nyad: [00:13:00] I kind of rail against people who say to me, "Oh well that's, you were angry and couldn't stop it then, so then you dived into swimming and studies and any other thing you could find to drive yourself to get up and over that." I don't think so. You know, I think that we do react to circumstances. We can be inspired. I mean Jack LaLanne heard a speech about the sugar blues when he was 15-years-old, never ate a drop of sugar again the rest of his life. So there are academic sort of things and personal things that inspire us and make us take different forks in the road.
Diana Nyad: [00:13:30] But I think our basic personality, when it comes to energy, drive, thirst as opposed to, "Just let it come to you. Be easy-going" those are the people I'm attracted to. My best friends are people with, "Just chill out for a minute. My God, Diana you're going to have a heart attack. Get some sleep, for God sake." I would like to be that, but I'm not. I don't usually use the word, blessed because it indicates a religious thing, but I have been, I think I was born with energy, and energy often leads to drive.
Diana Nyad: [00:14:00] You got to do something with all that, that's bubbling up, and something positive. So I don't think it was a 10-year-old. I think I happened to write an essay when I was 10 that years later when I swam around Manhattan and had a little bit of notoriety for that, the second grade teacher I had, aged 10, when I was aged 10, had saved ... she was one of these dedicated teachers who saved all her kids' essays.
Diana Nyad: [00:14:30] She had saved mine during that year when the essay was something like, "What am I going to do for the rest of my life?"
So you sit down, and I didn't write. Most of the boys of that era wrote, "I'm going to be a fireman." Most of the girls wrote, "I'm going to be a teacher or nurse." I wrote nothing like that, I wrote, "I just found out ..." I don't know my grandparents but I asked my parents. I found out that my parents probably lived ... they didn't know them either to be maybe in their 80s so I'm 10, "I only have 70 years, my ... I better get going. Tempus fugit."
Diana Nyad: [00:15:00] As a matter fact, in elementary school, so that would be more like age 12, I was at the graduation, and I was at a private school so they already had valedictorian, even in elementary school, and Jimmy Woodruff was the valedictorian. And so I'm sitting there with my mom, I have on my little patent leather shoes. I'm waiting for the program. I'm doing nothing, but doing the little graduation to seventh grade.
Diana Nyad: [00:15:30] The principal comes and he says, "Diana, Jimmy Woodruff is in the bathroom, he's throwing his guts up, he can't give the speech, he's scared to death. Is there any chance you could get up and say something?" My mother says, "You didn't prepare anything, don't say, 'Yes'" I said, "What do you need, like five minutes or is it seven minutes?" But evidently, my mother reminded me of this later, I frankly don't remember, but she says I gave a speech about what I was discovering.
Diana Nyad: [00:16:00] "Okay, We're 12. Okay, we've probably done our best so far but we don't have much time left. All of you get to know what your longevity is in your family. If you're going to be 100, you better subtract these 12 years and you better get going for those 88 that are left. Come on."
So I think I've just always had that choking feeling that this life, and as I've said, I'm not religious, but this life on earth goes by in a screeching hurry and you better just grab it or else it's going to be over and you're going to say, "Oh my God, I missed my 20s. I wasn't paying attention."
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] Wow. Wow. Okay, sort of a slight change of I guess tone. Another thing you talked about looking back on your relationships with your parents and the relationship with your coach and the sexual abuse that happened, you said, "Love and attachment are complex emotions" which is a very simple statement and obviously as deep as the sea. Can you talk about how you've navigated these complex relationships with people who let you down or worse?
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] How you've navigated that relationship between love and attachment, and also reconciling with the parts that weren't good? It's a big topic, obviously.
Diana Nyad: Like we are discovering millions of people, it's kind of almost part of the human condition so far in history, abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse has been part of the Homo sapiens history.
Diana Nyad: [00:17:30] I'm very proud of Me Too Movement that kind of all of a sudden if the courts aren't going to change, laws aren't going to change quickly, if regulations within the workplace or within the coaching, or within the church auspices aren't going to change immediately, the court of public opinion is speaking up to say, "It's wrong. Every human being deserves not to be touched without their will."
Diana Nyad: [00:18:00] And so, I was touched without my will when I was young, and I like a lot of kids who go through sexual abuse from a parental figure, a priest, a coach, a stepfather, a mother's boyfriend, an aunt, I was confused. I felt humiliated. I felt terrified. My life changed immediately as soon as it started.
Diana Nyad: [00:18:30] My relationship with the kids on the team, which you know meant everything to me, all of a sudden stopped and changed. Yet, this is my hero. This is my coach, who I felt ... and especially because I wasn't so close to my parents and didn't talk to them about everything, and reveal myself, and ask the difficult questions, they weren't available for that. My coach was. He read my report card. If I was having troubles with something I went to him, we talked.
Diana Nyad: [00:19:00] So this is my confidant, and as I said, my everything. I had him on a pedestal but I didn't know about sex and that's why we've made these laws that under the age of 18 it's called pedophilia. It's so confusing to a kid who is told by that parental figure whom they adore, that this is right for them. You know my coach used to say to me all the time.
Diana Nyad: [00:19:30] "I know you don't understand this but one day you will. I'm an adult and I need this, and you know this is our special thing. This is our special moment." That word's often used, you know, all these people I'm hearing from now who have gone through this and many more horrific violent cases than mine.
But, nevertheless I can only live my life and this happened to me, so it's my cross to bear and work through and get over, and get out to the other side of, which I think I largely have done in my life so far.
Diana Nyad: [00:20:00] But I realize there's a remnant of that wound. That little girl who was terrified and humiliated, who's still there. There's an area of low self-esteem that most people who know me can't believe exists because I walk around like, "Hey, let's go. I'm the leader" but there's still that fragile, broken little girl occasionally that comes triggering out. So it is complicated.
Diana Nyad: [00:20:30] It's different if you're walking down a street in New York City at three o'clock in the morning, you're going home and somebody jumps out of an alley with up with a steel pipe and bashes you over the head. You've never seen them before, you're never see them again, and now you go through some trauma that all the time when you're out at night you think that every little shadow is coming toward you.
There isn't love in that. There was no human relationship before, but if your grandfather when you're five-years-old begins to have an erection when he pulls you onto his lap.
Diana Nyad: [00:21:00] And you know comes all over you. I don't mean to be gross, but I'm hearing from people these horrible stories. You're afraid, this is your granddad who just a minute ago you were playing Legos with or whenever or has even gave you a bunny when he came in to the door, and now when nobody's around you don't understand it. You think he's right and oh, you even think you've been chosen, that you're the special one even though he's probably got a long line of family members and others he's doing this to.
Diana Nyad: [00:21:30] So I think that one of the shameful aspects of sexual abuse, especially in pedophilia for boys and girls is that they feel that they should have stopped it. I was a strapping, strong, fit 14-year-old when I was first attacked by my coach. I was bigger and stronger than I am now. I could have thrown him up against the wall and said, "Don't you ever come near me again. I'm going to the principal at school. I'm going to the police." Even, if I'm not going to my parents.
Diana Nyad: [00:22:00] But I didn't. I suffered through it in paralysis and in silence because there was something in me that said, "This must be love. I don't get it, but he must love me so much because he said, 'this is our special thing.'" So it's taking me years to work through that. Now there are everybody has a different case. There are lots of people who later in life, whether that person is deceased, that assailant is deceased or not.
Diana Nyad: [00:22:30] And my coach is now past, who feel that whether they work with a spiritual advisor, or they just feel themselves that they need to come to forgiveness of that person, I have no debate with them. Everybody has to live their own life.
I never arrived at that. I never had that coach write me or come to me to say, "How can I tell you how sorry I am? It was wrong. It was a different era. I didn't know better. I've learned. How can I make it up to you? I'll get on my knees and apologize."
Diana Nyad: [00:23:00] Maybe we would have worked through it. I was just left with a person who wouldn't admit it. Who abused many other girls of my era and then eras past that, who was never punished by the Swimming Hall of Fame. He's still in the Swimming Hall of Fame, although that's going to change. You know what? I don't want to waste my life. I did try. For several times I tried with US Swimming and with the high school and other places he was, to get him punished.
Diana Nyad: [00:23:30] Mainly, not to admit to what he did to me and the other girls whom he injured of my era, but not to allow him access to other young people as he went through, which he had, and whom he did abuse.
So every case is different, but for me, I never came to a state of forgiveness. I just came to a state of, he doesn't exist for me anymore. I'm not interested in making up or hearing the apologies because he didn't have any. I'm just going to live my life.
Diana Nyad: [00:24:00] If I get involved with the movement of sexual abuse it's going to be for others who are coming up in different generations, to recognize it early. Know that they can say, "No." Know that isn't love like normal, and make people toe the line and behave. That's kind of where I wound up with it.
Mason Funk: It does seem like with this particular class of victims, as well as for example, adult women who are victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse, it seems that shame ironically becomes one of the most powerful demons.
Mason Funk: [00:24:30] The turning of that horrific experience on one's self. I wondered if you could just talk about that a little bit from the point of view of people who are out there who are experiencing that, that particular feeling?
Dania Nyad: I've heard from so many people, all my life I've heard from people, because I've been out about this for a long time. I started talking when I was 21-years-old, so that was a long time ago, in an era when not too many people talked about it.
Dania Nyad: [00:25:00] But I hear from a lot of people who have wound up in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s just burdened with shame all their lives. You know, sex is a ... it's a delicate and it's a graphic thing to talk about.
When you have to go to that court moment or you have to appear to tell your side of the story. You have to talk about penises and how far they were entered. There are boys, there are men who are not gay.
Diana Nyad [00:25:30] Who were abused by a male when they were younger and now they don't want to admit to that story. They don't want to admit that they ever had sex, oral, anal, whatever it is, sex with men because they don't want to be considered gay.
There are boys who have been assaulted by their female family members and they don't want to have to tell their mother that the mother's sister would take them aside on the farm every summer when they went for the summer vacation and make them do something.
Diana Nyad [00:26:00] So you feel like it's your fault. When you're younger the whole world revolves around you anyway. As we get older we expand and realize that, "Oh there's a world that isn't my ego." But when you're younger you're defined by, who am I? What do I stand for? If you aren't the one who cries foul and says, "No" and feels strong. Like I have a few people who write me and say, "I would have never let that happen. I'm too strong a person.
Diana Nyad [00:26:30] " I write back or better, other people write on my behalf on Facebook or whatever to say, "Oh really, how old are you now? Oh you're 58. Well Diana wouldn't let that happen to her now either, but she was 14. Try to put yourself and in a different era, in those shoes." So I think that their shame is a huge part of it because you feel you were party to it, you didn't stop it. Just to get terribly graphic about it.
Diana Nyad [00:27:00] I think boys more than girls, but girls too, if you're held down and you're touched in private parts there's an automatic nerve sexual response. Then you feel guilty about that. That wasn't my case and maybe I feel some undue pride about that, that I was in a grip that I never did go to sexual pleasure with it. I know lots of adults who say.
Diana Nyad [00:27:30] "I feel so ashamed because I felt dirty, I felt it was wrong. I couldn't tell anybody, this is my uncle. I have to sit down at Thanksgiving dinner with him. My father, it's his brother and we're all like, Hey isn't his Uncle Bob the greatest? whereas, I'm sitting there tonight in the playroom at the basement.
I'm going to go through it again. I don't want to be with my uncle, I want to be with kids my own age." So anyway, I think the shame comes with that there might've been some pleasure involved with it and you didn't want that.
Diana Nyad
Diana Nyad: [00:28:00] Mainly it's you have been touched beyond your will. You know, Susan Brownmiller said it in her famous book in the 70s about rape, she called it, "Against our will." That's the whole phrase, you don't need to say anything more, you know?
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. Great. Thank you for ...
Diana Nyad: These are nice short little answers that you're going just have a half hour each you're going to trouble editing.
Mason Funk: You're doing fine.
Diana Nyad: I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] I have to say, I never talked to you about your sexual coming of age. So when I read in your book that at the age of 21, I think you were already ready to be out?
Diana Nyad: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I didn't know that.
Diana Nyad: Yeah.
Mason Funk: So I wonder if you could tell us that story of you realizing that you were attracted to women and how that doesn't sound like it was a huge bump in the road for you?
Diana Nyad: Yeah. I think when you get to be my age, I didn't keep a diary. I kind of wish I had.
Diana Nyad: [00:29:00] But my memory is elementary school I used to look at boys, Jimmy Woodruff and John Hopkins and I loved their little jeans and their checkered shirts, and their striped T-shirts, and their sneakers and stuff. I thought, because at that time that's the way everybody talked about it, that I had crushes on them, that I wanted to be their girlfriends, or whatnot, but the truth is, I wanted to be them. So I'm not a transsexual or a transgender individual who ever really wanted to change my entire gender.
Diana Nyad: [00:29:30] But I realized early on I wanted to be with girls. I wanted girls to have crushes on me like they had on Jimmy Woodruff. So I would dress in little boys clothes and probably still do really. I remember, I'd have to guess what age it was, I'm thinking about 13 or 14, and I've gone to a couple of class reunions now, so I've met up with this guy Bob who told me, and I remember this.
Diana Nyad: [00:30:00] I was sitting in a class and Mary Alice Islay was in front of me, right in front of me, and she had a sheer blouse so I could see from the back her bra through the blouse, and Bob was behind me.
He leaned over to me one day and he whispered in my ear and he pointed to her blouse and her bra and he said, "That makes me crazy." I said to him, "Me too." We both looked at each other like, "Why would you say that?" I think it was going on for a long time.
Diana Nyad: [00:30:30] I'd read stories about women together because it wasn't upfront, there was a little bit of male homosexuality as I was growing up. I remember reading about men in Europe or men in New York City, but I didn't know any gay people. There are certainly not out gay people in my town, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I just wasn't exposed, and certainly not girls and women. If anything, I thought, "Well there's such a thing as homosexuality, but it's for men but not women. That just doesn't exist."
Diana Nyad: [00:31:00] Except in reading some older French novels, George Sand and reading some older ... I would read those with fascination. She would dress up as a man. It wasn't really a gay thing, but it was just to go out about town, smoking cigarettes with men's 30s zoot suits on, or whatever that era was. So I was fascinated with men's clothes and men's getting to be anything. First of all, there's just that. I grew up in a largely still male dominated, white male dominated society.
Diana Nyad: [00:31:30] So if you were anything about white male you weren't going to be just automatically, be anything you want in life, go chase any dream you've got. If you were black or Latino, or Asian, or a woman, you were going to be less than, and your dreams were going to be less than. I think that I was very adamant early on and that was part of that. I wanted to be more a boy or like a boy
Diana Nyad: [00:32:00] Because not only did I want to be near girls more, physically and hormonally, but I wanted to be anything I could be. It seemed like that the only way to do that was be a boy. I remember when I was kicked out of college, which I'm not proud of, but I had to go see a therapist. I was required to do six months of psychotherapy before I could get into another college at that time. The very first thing the therapist asked me was, he said,
Diana Nyad: [00:32:30] "So you want to be a doctor. You're an athlete and want to further be an athlete, and you want to drive a sports car. These are all male things to do in life." I was so angry, I said, "I'm not coming back. Why would you tell me that? Aren't you here to help me be who I want to be in life and discover myself?" So I think I was angry. I remember my father too, my father wasn't around the house anymore, like by the time I was about 13-ish maybe 14, and he wasn't around much anyway, he was a con artist.
Diana Nyad: [00:33:00] He was always out of the road scheming people, but he was going to play chess with my brother one night. Chess, the smart game. Chess, the elite game. He patted me on the fanny, my sister was too young to do anything at that time, and he said, "Go in the kitchen and do something."
We didn't have regular dinners, but just go do anything. Get lost and do something domestic in his eyes. I went in the kitchen and got out something wet out of the freezer, I think it was lettuce, usually we didn't have a lot of lettuce, but something wet, and I just made it yucky.
Diana Nyad: [00:33:30] I went in and threw it on his lap. He was big into corporal punishment, so he got out the belt and he whipped me. I remember crying the whole time saying, "I don't care. I want to play chess. Why am I relegated to go, go along do something girly now?" So I always had an anger about that. You know, often people play like a proverbial dinner game and they say,
Diana Nyad: [00:34:00] "If you could've lived in any other era would you want to live in Cleopatra's era or during the Greek's time or whatever?" I say, "As a woman?" What era? I mean we still have a ways to go, we're still not on the dollar, equal pay but I pretty much live my life in a defiance to say, "I might be a woman but I'm going to do anything I want, whether it's considered man's work or a man's image, I'm going to do it." And so, that was a little part of being attracted to being gay also.
Diana Nyad: [00:34:30] I'm just going to be who I want along with the sexuality, but I think it all started very early. When I did, finally I went to ... I was invited to a birthday party when I was 21, still didn't have gay friends, didn't know anything about it in real society, even though I was at NYU in New York City.
And so, I did know there were men gay bars, but I didn't know there was anything about women. I hadn't looked on. I didn't know I was gay. I didn't say it out loud. I didn't know for sure.
Diana Nyad: [00:35:00] I went to a party of a friend of mine in Michigan, birthday party, and it was all women. They were all dancing. I think within honestly two or three minutes I was dancing with a whole bunch of women, with maybe 10 minutes I was kissing some woman against the wall. That night I slept with three people. I was just a ... I was out. I was so ready to be out, and I've never looked back.
Mason Funk: Great. Great, great, great. Okay, I'm keeping my eye on the clock.
Diana Nyad: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] How do you think that's affected your career, being out?
Diana Nyad: I'm in a different career now. Since the Cuba swim I'm sort of in this lucky little moment of being able to inspire, so I'm speaking all over the world. I've written a memoir. Hollywood has come knocking and Sandra Bullock wants to play me in this movie. Who knows if that'll come to pass. So I'm not climbing up a sports casting ladder anymore.
Diana Nyad: [00:36:00] I did enjoy a number of the jobs I did for 30 years, from 30 to 60, National Public Radio, such a place of creativity and intellectual freedom, and I could name a few others, but I would say in the biggest sports casting arenas, ABC Sports and a few others, that being gay did not serve me well and I just wasn't going to be the one who pretended otherwise.
Diana Nyad: [00:36:30] What, was I really going to take a man friend of mine as a beard to go to the Roone Arledge 25th Anniversary of the Wide World of Sports? I took Nina. I was told not by Roone himself, but I was told by other announcer friends of mine that he didn't like that.
You know what? It wasn't a personal thing. I think if Roone had me to his personal home in New York he would've been fine that I was gay. He was sophisticated. He had gone around the block. I'm sure that he was this way with his male announcers as well who were gay.
Diana Nyad: [00:37:00] But he couldn't afford to build someone's career, who was going to get bigger and bigger, and bigger on camera and then the public would find out that they're a lesbian.
That's the way I was told, he never told me that directly, but I think that I didn't get as far as I could have a sports announcer. Now all these years later, I could care less. You couldn't pay me to go back to that career. I think I'm doing what I should be doing now. These are my skills. I'm an orator. I'm a writer. I'm an inspiration, if I might say so myself.
Diana Nyad: [00:37:30] I liked some of the jobs I did, but you know I'm over that, but at the time I was always banging on the door, "Why don't you put me on? I could call NFL games. I love boxing. I know everything about boxing. Put me on there." I think that those executives at the time thought, Well she's not married. She doesn't have a boyfriend. Doesn't look good."
Mason Funk: Yeah. Good. Okay. Now, speaking of swimming. I had an idea, because obviously your story's been told.
Mason Funk: [00:38:00] You've told your story of your three swims. The three most recent swims.
Diana Nyad: Five. There were five attempts at Cuba.
Mason Funk: Five attempts?
Diana Nyad: Yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: But it was two and then three, right?
Diana Nyad: No. It was one and four.
Mason Funk: Oh one and four?
Diana Nyad: Yeah. One when I was in my 20s and four when I was older. Yeah.
Mason Funk: See, I thought it was only three and the-
Diana Nyad: It seems like that. No, to me it seems like 20.
Mason Funk: I wonder if you got in an elevator with somebody and they said, "What do you know about the water between Cuba and Florida?" Do you have an elevator version of just the attempts you made like, "I did one and this happened. I did two and that happened. I did three?" Can you do that for us in like a minute?
Diana Nyad: [00:38:30] The Cuba Florida swim, people have been trying since 1950. They call it, "The Mount Everest of the Earth's oceans." The most challenging, most obstacle ridden swim on Earth. We're not talking about Antarctica now, but possible swims. It is the particular species of sharks, the particular venomous species of jellyfish, the box jellyfish. Most people have died who have been hit by that.
Diana Nyad: [00:39:00] The Gulf Stream going that way, six times faster than you're trying to go that way, eddies within the Gulf Stream. The chances of getting all that right at one time are close to impossible. They're down at close to 0%, and each time I tried it was a confluence of a number of those different ... Either the weather would pop up at a 60 mile an hour wind, or there'd be the box jellyfish, where I should have died, 2011. There's the Gulf Stream that didn't behave the way it looked like it was going to behave when we started.
Diana Nyad: [00:39:30] So it's a weather and a current system that's in flux, and then you've got a scare from the animals as well. So its never me, it was never me who came to the end of those five times who said, "I just can't go anymore. I've bitten off more than I can chew. Let's go to Guam and do a 100 mile swim there instead." It was always one or two or three of those Mother Nature on steroid obstacles that happened.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Now I remember, although mistakenly I thought it was three attempts in your 60s as opposed to four, but I do remember, I joined the chorus of divers and I sure I wasn't the only one, and what I heard was you saying to the grand public, to the public, especially to aging people and maybe even aging women, "You can do whatever you want." I thought to myself, "Well no, you can't." And so, I was one of those people, and I'm sure you heard ... can you tell us about the people you heard from?
Mason Funk: [00:40:30] And what you thought or decided internally in response, like, "No, I'm not saying that, this is what I'm saying"?
Diana Nyad: First of all, to go back, I think early on I was a person who didn't appreciate societal limitations. I don't appreciate a healthcare company today saying to me, "
Diana Nyad: [00:41:00] Well we have all our charts here. We've got all our data, you're 68, so you should be this, and you should be prone to this, and this, and this." Well you know, I don't pretend not to be 68, but I'm not that categorical 68, and so I'm not a categorical, you should be a woman, and do this or you should be your age and not do this and so, I've never wanted to. I try to preach to kids all the time, "Don't people tell you what you can't do you." It could be absurd, if you say you're going off a 34 story building, Okay?
Diana Nyad: [00:41:30] But within some amount, modicum of reality, don't let people put limitations on you, that's old school. And so, with the Cuba swim, way back when I was 28 years old and first tried it, it was already called, impossible, you know, most people in the marathon swimming world said, "That is one swim that will never be done by anybody of any era, any gender, any age, it just has too much going against it to get it all right, on one two to three day period."
Diana Nyad: [00:42:00] And I found that to be true four times. I guess there's some value to getting knocked down like that punching bag and getting back up, and getting knocked down and getting back up. And so, I heard it, I heard even people on my own team would say, "You know, we know too much of what's out there last time. You went 51 hours last time. We weren't even close to the shore."
Diana Nyad: [00:42:30] I said, "Yeah, but the weather turned against us." As it does out here, it's a very fickle weather area that's infected by the whole world. You rarely get a forecast that holds. You know what? Maybe I just did this is a rationalization, but I felt very real and it. I said, "It's the age-old debate is it the destination or is it the journey?" My team feels that we are on a journey that is rocking us with inspiration. We're on a scientific learning curve, we're bringing knowledge of the box jellyfish.
Diana Nyad: [00:43:00] Space telemetry is starting to come into play with the eddies out there, which we had never used before. We were in touch with NASA for that. We are on a course of setting history and we are on a course of a grand adventure. One of our guys, Bucko, who's one of our kayakers, he's got that electronic shield on the bottom of his kayak that creates an elliptical field of electricity that most time sharks don't like to come through.
Diana Nyad [00:43:30] If an animal hasn't eaten in a week or so and a little innocent swimmer comes by making a low frequency vibration that shark will come bust right through that.But I said to Bucko one time, we had gone four times, he missed a lot of work, "You know there's a lot of sacrifice.
I'm the one out there willing to sacrifice, what about the whole team, why are they taken time off?" Not one of them got paid a penny, but adventure, history, friendship was driving us, discovery. I said, "Bucko, would you be willing to step up a fifth time?" Now, he's going to train all year round with us so he's given a lot of time.
Diana Nyad: [00:44:00] He said, "Diana, it's life or death out there. I've discovered more about myself paddling next to you than I have working my job in Key West, so I could lose my job. I'm in, let's go another time". So we all knew that we may never have reached the other shore, and it was still worth the journey. Would it have gone on forever like that, would people have had the patience, my team, the public at large for a sixth and a seven and a ... would I still be trying now? Probably. Thank goodness I made it on that fifth time.
Mason Funk: [00:44:30] I've always wondered, if on that fifth time there was a moment when you knew you were going to make it?
Diana Nyad: You know, I've learned the hard way not only in that, but in other aspects of life, personal relationships. I lost my marriage to Nina, frankly over assuming it was going to last forever, that we would love each other to death do we part, and I didn't pay attention.
Diana Nyad: [00:45:00] I didn't tend to it with respect and attention like I should have, so I think on those swims, which would include the long, grueling training hours, I was told when I was hurting that second night, I was shivering, I couldn't remember who I was, and what we were doing. I was out of it. Bonnie gave a shark whistle signal, which is she shouldn't do if there truly isn't a shark, but they all planned it, the team. The shark team was in the water with me.
Diana Nyad: [00:45:30] So I thought, "Danger", I sort of woke out of my reverie. I wasn't cold anymore. My adrenaline was flowing. I slowly dog paddled with knees way up, close to the boat, like I'm supposed to, and she said, "Turn around. What's over there?" I said, "I don't know, my vision's shot. There's nothing. It's black. It's a canvas of black." She said, "There's something, you have to see it. Feather up a little bit." I feathered up, I said, The sun's coming up on the third day." Sun gives you hope. She knew it would give me hope.
Diana Nyad: [00:46:00] She said, "It's better than the sun, those are the lights of Key West." So that gave me hope that we were making it, but the truth is, in the end we didn't know then, but we knew we were far, it's a mirage at night, light and sound across the ocean are closer than they seem.
We had 15 more hours to swim. We could have still hit an oceanic white tip, come up and thrash and take my leg. We could still hit another box jellyfish, even though now I have more protective clothing, or I could have passed out. Wind could come up like happened before.
Diana Nyad: [00:46:30] So until I was on sand, until my hands, not even my feet, hit sand I didn't make any assumptions because I'd made that mistake before.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay. I'm sort of looking at possible questions.
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] I am curious, when we were working together you told and you alluded to this when you told the story of your dad and the dictionary. You said, "It may, or may not have happened exactly with those words. That was kind of poeticized."
Diana Nyad: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I remember you when we were working together, we were talking I think it was a group of us, maybe some celebration, you said, "You know, stories, stories are meant to be told. Stories are ... I'm not really attached to the truth of the capital T." I was very like, "Oh well as a journalist I can't really agree with that."
Mason Funk: [00:47:30] What is your take now on the stories we tell because as a side note, Jake one time said to me after one of these interview days, I mentioned that someone had told me something that I didn't think was quite true? He said, "You don't think people are telling the truth do you? They're telling their story."
You're such an inveterate story teller, what is the relationship you've come to with stories and truth, and truth with a capital T and truth with a little flair. Tell me about that?
Diana Nyad: [00:48:00] I think we're in an era with Trump especially when we're examining the truth all the time. So I have definitely come to a position as a journalist or someone, if I'm giving an interview, of telling the absolute truth, and I'd be willing to admit if I tell a story from when I was five-years-old that the gist of the story is true. My father really did read to me from the dictionary.
Diana Nyad: [00:48:30] But to make it engaging, he really did speak with the accent I speak with. So to make it engaging I'm sure that I throw in a couple of words or a way of presenting it that wasn't word for word the way it happened between the two of us when I was five. But the truth is, my name's in the dictionary. My father pointed out to me early, he said, "You're going to be a champion swimmer. It's your destiny."
Diana Nyad [00:49:00] So to my mind it's not off-base to create it as almost a staged story. When I'm on stage though and when I wrote the memoir, I can vouch that every word is true, unlike if you're at dinner party and you're telling a funny story. I have a story about Hillary Clinton and a crazy hairdo I had years ago and it did happen.
Diana Nyad: [00:49:30] I went into the White House at the time Hillary was first and in the White House, I had had a permanent the night before, it was disaster, and you've never seen anything like it. We have, there's a picture of me and Hillary shaking hands whereby she is transfixed by my haircut. Just never heard a word I said, just held my hand and with her jaw slack.
She actually remembers that story, but when I tell it about when I was with the women athletes outside waiting to go in and we were chatting and they were putting baseball caps on my head, and using manicure scissors.
Diana Nyad: [00:50:00] All of that is a little fuzzy around the edges, but the truth of the story is there. There was a haircut, permanent. There was Hillary Clinton. There was a photograph. We both remember it as being odd.
So I think there is such a thing and anybody who tells oral stories on stage, Bill Clinton is a great example. You could if you wanted to make a career, and some people have, of following Bill Clinton around, and I don't mean to pick on him, we can pick anybody who orates all the time, Obama, and orates well, you could pick up a little.
Diana Nyad: [00:50:30] But I have used telling that story 15 years ago and, "You said the woman's eyes were gray, now you're saying there were brown. "Bill Clinton could say, "Who cares? That's not part of the story, I was just using a little detail to give some texture to the story." When I'm talking about records or facts as they happened, if people need to know them.
Diana Nyad: [00:51:00] Now I'm a minor public figure, but something of public figure, like that that memoir, it some 400 some pages, I swear by every single word, every paragraph in that book. It all happen exactly the way it happened. So I do think that there's poetic license in certain types of personal storytelling. But look, I look at someone like Brian Williams, lied as the Head of NBC Television Network news.
Diana Nyad: [00:51:30] Our sort of father, grandfatherly figure bringing us the news of the war and whatnot, night by night, said his plane had been shot at, turns out it didn't. He's been forgiven. He's back working as big time, the big boys of MSNBC now, and I forgive him. I think that we all, maybe not every single person, but people in public spheres often speak incorrectly, and I think that if they admit to it, and they get back on track that they're forgiven.
Diana Nyad: [00:52:00] I certainly am very careful as to the stories I tell. Bonnie, if we're at dinner party and I've told a story she'll go, "Well it didn't happen exactly like that." I say, "Who cares? That story isn't for history and there's nobody here recording it." It's not a self-aggrandizing story like, "I achieved this." It's just a funny story that happened at the dog park today and it's funnier if it was a bulldog, French bulldog instead of a collie. So that's where I am storytelling.
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] Yeah. Gotcha. Kate, do you have questions? You'll answer me as if I asked them, but Kate, in every way I want to give her a chance.
Diana Nyad: This is where we test if Kate's been listening so she doesn't ask the same question again.
Kate Kunath: Okay. Well you are a badass B.
Diana Nyad: Thank you.
Kate Kunath: That is for sure.
Diana Nyad: Thank you.
Kate Kunath: I wonder-
Diana Nyad: The highest of all compliments.
Kate Kunath: I wonder if you have that thing inside ever that's like, "I can't do this. This is fucking crazy"?
Kate Kunath: [00:53:00] Because to relate to you as a badass B, I wonder, is there a difference between me and her, can I be a person that swims across the ocean, because I have the thing that says, this thing that you're about to do is kind of crazy, I'll do it anyway, but I have to push through a lot of ... I don't know if it's self-doubt, it's definitely something that wants to reason with me. I wonder if you have that?
Diana Nyad: [00:53:30] I think there's more than a fine line, there's a big, bold line between believing in what you want to do and believing you can do it, and being able to go out there and do it. What other people are competing against you? What timing in life is coming up that it wasn't the right time for you to do that?
Diana Nyad: [00:54:00] So I rarely doubt myself. I'm usually filled with confidence of what I dream and what I envision, but I liked to have EverWalk become the biggest walking initiative in American history. It's hard. In two years we have no corporate sponsor. I can open doors.
I walk out of meetings with big CMOs and CEOs of big businesses who say to me, "Diana, you could sell sand in the desert. This is so exciting.
Diana Nyad: [00:54:30] I believe it, you want people to get out and find their EPIC selves by walking over the curvature of the Earth and seeing the sky. Coming home and saying, 'That's who I want to be. That's what I want to be.' Being inspired instead of sitting home on the couch watching TV."
Not that I don't ever do that, but as a general rule, but will EverWalk make it? Will we be sitting around years from now and we'll say, "Look at that. Diana and her buddy Bonnie turned the wave of walking, Fitbits, 10,000 steps a day into a tsunami and the whole country's walking now."
Diana Nyad: [00:55:00] That's my vision. I believe in it. I go out and try to sell it and get backing for it, but will it be? But at least at the end, if it doesn't make it, and we have to fold down, I don't see that. I don't even like to envision it, but after a certain amount of time, do go a decade and throw yourself into ... especially when you don't have many decades left? You got to come to reckoning like, I might've had to with Cuba.
Diana Nyad: [00:55:30] Had I tried a sixth time, and a seventh time, would I say ... You know, maybe I just should admit that this is bigger than I thought it was, maybe. So it's not me who usually says, that little inner chatter, monkey chatter, not that I don't have that.So it's not me who usually says, that little inner chatter, monkey chatter, not that I don't have that, I think all human beings do of, "Am I really capable of this" or even, "Do I really deserve this?" It's more that, "How am I going to get through the obstacles that are in front of me?" I want to go to Broadway.
Diana Nyad: [00:56:00] I think that I'm a master storyteller. I'm not Billy Crystal. Billy Crystal wants to go to Broadway, this is a big longtime beloved celebrity star and he's going to stand on stage and tell any stories he wants, whether you like his a show or not, he's going to get there. I'm no huge celebrity, am I getting it to Broadway? Who's going to invest in that show? Broadway's a lot of investment. So I keep developing the stage aspects, the sort of theatrical aspects of my corporate speech.
Diana Nyad: [00:56:30] Try to become much more of a storyteller than a lecturer. But you know, I could talk to you 10 years from now you'll say, "You still got that Broadway dream?" I could say, "You know, it's not that I gave up, but I got real. It just seemed I pounded every door there was for years and nobody wanted to go down that road with me." I don't believe that, I think I'm gonna make it to, let's say off-Broadway and then we'll see if we can get past that.
Diana Nyad: [00:57:00] So it's not usually me and that chatter that keeps myself from believing. It's usually the reality of the outside world and the times we live in.
Mason Funk: Great.
Diana Nyad: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Do you have another question?
Kate Kunath: Are you afraid of failure with anything?
Diana Nyad: I would say that, and I think this is true of a lot of athletes, maybe a lot of people, Sally Ride said something like this at one time.
Diana Nyad: [00:57:30] "I am willing to go down the road toward failure and would rather experience failure and dream and hit a high bar where I'll discover myself, rather than shoot for a low, mediocre bar that I know I'm going to succeed at." I think there are a lot of studies of high level, like prep school kids these days, who the schools have figured out that as seniors to get into Harvard and Stanford
Diana Nyad: [00:58:00] And all those big schools, they shoot for the lowest bar possible, not their SAT scores, but they give them courses were they're going to be at A-pluses, 4.0 grade averages, and I don't believe in that. I think those kids, they're the kids who have all the privilege, have all the great teachers. They should be shooting, and even if they can only get a 3.7 grade average, that they should be discovering things and learning. Go, try to run a marathon.
Diana Nyad: [00:58:30] Even if maybe that's not in their genes, and they'll find out after that was a bit much for them and they should run the half marathon instead. I'd say I'm actually driven by seeking out failure. I'd put it that way rather than driven by, "I'm going to win. I'm going to succeed at everything." If I were going to succeed at Broadway that version of it.
DIana Nyad: [00:59:00] The winning version is I would say, right now I'm one of the sort of most sought after public speakers in the world today. CAA is my agent. They have people who make money per hour more than I do, that's for sure, but they don't have anybody in their roster of very well-known people, actors and astronauts et cetera, who are hired around the world as much as I am. I've developed and I think I have a natural talent for telling stories on stage.
Diana Nyad: [00:59:30] Just as I have no talent for doing lots of other things, but I'm shooting for Broadway and willing to say it out loud, even though the chances are pretty slim. I'd rather fail trying to get there than be this speaker who's quite comfortable and hired constantly and could probably do this another good 10 to 15 years and just say, "That was enough for me." You know?
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] I like that a lot. It takes a lot to say it out loud obviously. It's one thing to nurture the idea in your brain, but it's another thing to say, "Hello world. I'm aiming for that so you can all watch me, you'll know if I succeed or not."
Diana Nyad: Yeah, yeah. Bonnie is always saying to me, "Why say it out loud?" We want to have a million walkers at EverWalk Nation. So right now we have 5,000. We're very far away from the million. She said, "Why throw that number out? Why don't you say, 'We're looking to get 10,000?'" That feels like the first step, and I'm just always a big mouth.
Diana Nyad: [01:00:30] I speak out the dream, and it's okay if we don't make it because I'd rather die trying.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kate Kunath: Do you have the same approach to love?
Diana Nyad: Love, oh what a big word. There's dog love and there's-
Kate Kunath: I mean people love. I mean like a relationship. That idea of, I'll die trying.
Diana Nyad: [01:01:00] I wish I was still in that marriage of years ago where I could die trying. I didn't try hard enough. As I said before, I took a lot of things for granted. Yeah, I would be the wrong person to give any relationship advice right now. My friends do come to me, and Bonnie and I laughed because we think, "We haven't been in a ..."
People think we're an old married couple, but were not. We give our friends relationship advice, "He is not worth your time. He's going to treat you that way, walk out the door. Take your bags and the dog with you and never look back." But we're, neither of us in relationships.
Diana Nyad: [01:01:30] I guess I don't think relationships work the same as other goals. It's a much deeper, intertwined series of emotions and things, but I tell you, if I ever am in love again one mistake I will not make is taking it for granted. I'm going to make that garden, tend to it and make it grow all the time.
Mason Funk: Do you think that fear ... you said that you almost love to seek out arenas for potential failure to see whether you can do it or not?
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] And if you fail you learn something along the way. Do you pursue relationships in the same way or are they really kind of in a different category for you?
Diana Nyad: I don't know why and we could spend a long time analyzing this but I'm not really in pursuit of a relationship. You would think it's part of human life, most people like to nest, most people couple up, if they can. I don't want to spend my whole life making a life alone with my dog, although he's pretty good company.
Diana Nyad: [01:02:30] But maybe it's because I have two very close best friends, so I could never have the flu and not have one of them bring me over a homemade chicken soup. When I check into a hotel, old school Bonnie, and there's a clear line drawn, we are not lovers. We are friends for 40 years, and my other best friend Candace, we're friends for longer than 40 years. When I check into a hotel, every single time and I travel a lot.
Diana Nyad: [01:03:00] Bonnie has left a message, not on my phone, but at the hotel front desk that's on paper, that they've written out. It says, "From Bonnie. Hope you got in okay. Call me when you can." So when you have that kind of intimacy and caretaking, unlike a lot of single people who have friends, but the friends are coupled up, and it's not the same level, they're very motivated. They say, "I'm getting hooked up. I want to be in a marriage."
Diana Nyad: [01:03:30] So I haven't been out looking. Unfortunately, a lot of the women I'm attracted to are straight, and so that can be fun, and a little slow dancing in a foreign city can be a lot of fun, but it's not leading toward that lifelong partnership that most people want. Then I get worried, I have two friends who we are in lifelong partnership. So I'm not, not looking for relationship, and I'm not looking for one either. I just get up and chase the sun.
Mason Funk: [01:04:00] Great. We have four short question that we always finish up with and we really should ask them right now.
Diana Nyad: Go ahead.
Mason Funk: First one. To someone who comes to you tomorrow and says, whatever this means to that person, "I'm thinking about coming out." What short, simple piece of advice, pearl of wisdom would you offer that person?
Diana Nyad: Coming out in everything you are, be your true self. Don't lie to yourself and don't lie to anybody else, come out. Be out and proud.
Mason Funk: [01:04:30] What is your hope for the future?
Diana Nyad: I'm worried about the future. I'm worried about humanity. I read all these devastating stories of glaciers melting and lakes drying up, and I think that we have overburdened the planet with seven billion people, we can't feed them all. Half the planet is thirsty and hungry.
Diana Nyad: [01:05:00] We're not paying attention to the oceans and the rivers, and the air and the ozone layer. The few people who are, are dedicated and pushing on it, but finances and the economy of the world, especially the developed countries, are pushing against what we should do.
Diana Nyad: So most of the people who work in this area from oceanographers to glaciologists say, "You don't have to worry about the planet, as soon as the human race kills itself off, which they're doing very nicely,
Diana Nyad: [01:05:30] The planets, the rivers are going to run clean overnight, virtually. So don't worry about the planet, worry about what humans are doing on the planet." Do I do everything? I'm still driving a gas car, bad on me. I still have the occasional plastic bottle when I travel, bad on me. We used to think, "Well you can't do anything. It's too big. We can't save the human race." But there are billions of us, if each one of us did our little part we could get there, and I need to be a better leader in all of that.
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Great. Why is important to you to tell your story?
Diana Nyad: You know, I'm not special, I'm really not. Just about everybody I come across, people in my neighborhood, people Masai tribes, rich businessmen in New York, a woman on a city bus, I find almost everyone has a story to tell, and they're all important. There are germs of truth and inspiration, and sadness, and hurt and love.
Diana Nyad: [01:06:30] All people can learn from other people's stories. You don't have to be some well-known person to have a story that's worth listening to. I have a story worth listening to that's filled with never give up messages. Filled with, you can be anything at any age messages. Filled with, you can't do anything on your own. You know when I was out in that ocean there was only one set of arms coming up, left after right, after left over right.
Diana Nyad: [01:07:00] I never would've made it a million years without Bonnie and that group, those shark divers, that jellyfish team, that navigation team. We were a team and I find that in every single thing I do. So people often say, "Who do you admire?" I admire Michelle Obama. I admire the Gates. What do they now give a 100% of their income to infectious diseases overseas? I admire all kinds of people, but the truth is, I admire the woman down the street from me who's decided to go around and take care of the family who lost their mother to cancer.
DIana Nyad: [01:07:30] She's going to get a meal and in that in the back porch for the father who's left with three kids all of a sudden. She's going to get meals from our neighborhood in the big cooler she put on the back porch every night of the year for the next year. I admire that woman. Talk about being engaged. So I think every human being on earth has a story to tell, and we should listen to all of them.
Mason Funk: I want to pause before the final question because you used that word, engaged. You had said that is something you wanted to kind of make sure you talked about.
Mason Funk [01:08:00] The difference between ... I can't remember what the other things were, and being engaged. Can you talk about that for a minute, what that means to you?
Diana Nyad: People often misunderstand me and think that my whole deal in life, my big drive is dreaming big and being everything I can be, and inspiring other people to do the same. Yes, there is that, but above that, an umbrella ethic that is above that dreaming big for me is just plain engagement.
Diana Nyad: [01:08:30] I don't want to sit around regretting that I was half asleep, half awake, eating without noticing it, watching TV without caring what it was. I want to be ... if I'm going to watch TV, if I'm going to eat a pint of Hagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, I want to be engaged in it. I want to make every ounce of that butterfat be delicious, and not be unconscious, looking at my cell phone while I eat and
DIana Nyad: [01:09:00] Say, "Oh my God, I ate the whole thing, how could I have done that?" I want to wake up and see what's going on in my neighborhood, my family, my extended family, my workplace, the world at large. I have a lot of friends who have dropped out of politics or even political knowledge in this country because of such a problem over President Trump. I want to know everything that's going on. I want to know if Roe v. Wade is going to be under assault, and how it all came to be? Where can we go to protest? What petition can I sign?
Diana Nyad: [01:09:30] I just, I want to be engaged. I want to take that last breath of my life and say, "I could have done more, I wished I'd had more time, I could have helped more people, I could have been more myself, but at least I can't fault myself for the energy and the engagement that I gave to every single day."
Mason Funk: Great. The final question. What is the importance to you of project like OUTWORDS? If you could mention OUTWORDS in the answer.
Diana Nyad: Those of us who live in big urban environments.
Diana Nyad: [01:10:00] So I lived in New York for 25 years, Ive now been in Los Angeles for 20 years. It's sort of like, gay is not only normal, and every sitcom sort of, Will and Grace and whatnot, laud being gay. It's almost come to be cool. I have straight friends who joke about, and say, "I wish I could be gay. Gay's the coolest thing to be." But I have gone on a number of Olivia, which is lesbian cruise vacation ship to promote things.
Diana Nyad: [01:10:30] I'm doing, like EverWalk and I've met people who are, it's not to pick on, it's not to be chauvinistic and say, "If you're not from the coast, you don't read the Wall Street Journal." There are so many smart people in the South and Midwest, and Northwest, everywhere, but gay culture has not been widely accepted as, "Just fine" in every family in America.
Diana Nyad: [01:11:00] And so, yeah I think that this whole archive, to be a permanent respected place where people can tell their stories. Where they can look in the camera and say how difficult it's been to be out, and how they been shunned by their families. How they thought of committing suicide when they're younger. And so, sadly young people have done because they've been turned away. They've been called, "Reviled human beings." It's such an important archive that you're building.
Diana Nyad: [01:11:30] I'm so proud to tell my little story in it, but I bet you and I'd like to hear from you, how many people you've come across who it wasn't easy. Their coming out came a lot later and came harder for a lot of people. Now all we have to do is look around the world. I mean how many Syrians could we talk to? I'm always curious about that, does homosexuality or bisexuality, or now transgender, exist in the Kikuyu tribe in Africa?
DIana Nyad: [01:12:00] No doubt, it's part of humanity, but can any of those people ever express it when the penalty's going to be death in some cases? At least here in this country we're beginning to have a broad mainstream acceptance. It's not everywhere yet, but it's coming. This is probably too long for you, but I just want to tell you this story. I went on one of those Olivia cruises. I met a lesbian couple who are in their 50s.
DIana Nyad: [01:12:30] They're professors at University California San Luis Obispo. They had their mother with them and they said, one of them said, "My mother has an incredible story to tell, ask her." So after dinner ... She was in her mid-80s, I said, "Do you want to go up on the lido deck and just chat under the moonlight?" Dolphins were playing out in the sea. She said, "Look don't ever get me wrong, my husband's dead now and I loved my husband. He's a good man. I have two children. You met my daughter, I have a son also, I would never trade that.
Diana Nyad: [01:13:00] But I was in love my whole life with my childhood sweetheart who was a girl, and then a woman, and she's gone now too. But there's no doubt, we used to pretend kiss when we were kids. We'd put our hands over our mouths and reach around and kiss. We married two best friends, men, on purpose. They were good people, but we weren't in love because we wanted to build homes next to each other. We wanted to go on every vacation with our kids together. We would sit in the movies, the men would protect us and sit on the ends.
Diana Nyad: [01:13:30] We'd put coats over our laps and hold hands. And so, now my daughter brought me on this lesbian cruise, 2,800 lesbians dancing the salsa at three o'clock in the morning, holding hands at dinner, where in a lot of their towns they feel they can't do that." She said, "Had I known, had that all been available to me, I probably never would have been married and never would have had children." Well how many people have that story? Like I say, would I have liked to have lived in another era as a gay woman?
Diana Nyad: [01:14:00] I'll take this one. We have a lot of work to do, but at least for a lot of us there's a chance to just be free and be who you are. So congratulations, OUTWORDS is a hugely monumental, important, respectful place for people to have their stories archived and forever stamped.
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] Good. Thank you very much. Right, we should do room tone.
Kate Kunath: Room tone?
Mason Funk: Room tone.
Diana Nyad: I remember that. I remember that.
Kate Kunath: Okay. What time do you get up on the morning?
Diana Nyad: [01:15:00] I get up early. I get up at dawn. My problem is I like late night too. Don't ever drive with me at four o'clock. I always fall asleep and bash into the car in front of me. I'm always sleep deprived.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Diana Nyad: And I don't take it is a badge of honor. I know a lot of ... I would get next to someone on a plane and they'll say, "Oh you have no idea how busy I am and I haven't slept." I say, "I don't want to hear it. Who cares? You're just telling me that because it makes you sound important." I don't, not sleep. I think I'm just nervous that I got things on my mind.
Mason Funk: It's why you turn the lights out, yeah?
Diana Nyad: [01:15:30] Yeah, yeah. I woke up at three o'clock this morning. I'd written somebody kind of a berating email yesterday and he didn't deserve it. I felt so guilty over it and I wrote him at three o'clock in the morning to say, "How can I publicly apologize for this? I shouldn't ... It was me, I was filled with other frustrations and it was so unfair, and I'm so sorry." He wrote me back. I heard his text back, like at 4:30 in the morning, so I got up again and read it. Then we called each other, and we both cried. It's all forgiven-
Mason Funk: Wow.
Diana Nyad: [01:16:00] ... but I need to make more of a ... It was an EverWalk thing. I needed to make a public apology to say I was an idiot. I thought I'd learned that lesson that when you work with people, just work things out. If they're still in the team don't berate them and don't get all on your high horse like, "I told you five times we're not changing the route up there. Aren't you paying attention?"
Just call them and say, "Tom, didn't we have this thing? So I don't want to say anything in front of everybody else." Then he'll say, "I'm so sorry, I didn't read it carefully. I should have."
Diana Nyad: [01:16:30] But instead, I dressed him down in front of the whole email group-
Mason Funk: Oh God.
Diana Nyad: ... then I just felt horrible all through the night of it. Sometimes it's about things like that, the things you're doing that you go over, "I could have done it better" or, "I got to do this differently, you know?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Diana Nyad: You know what I mean?
Mason Funk: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's-

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: March 21, 2018
Location: Home of Diana Nyad, Los Angeles, CA