Diana Nyad writes the way she speaks — exuberantly capitalizing the job titles of her swimming support team members, name-dropping her way through anecdotes about her public life at a historic time for women in sports, colorfully detailing the hallucinations she experienced during her long swims from Cuba to Florida.
Nyad’s new memoir, “Find a Way,” should charm the fans who cheered her through five attempts to swim the approximately 100 miles through the rough, swift currents between Cuba and the Florida Keys.
Critics who questioned Nyad’s documentation of her successful 2013 swim, along with her methods and equipment, likely won’t find much to appreciate about “Find a Way,” though.
The book opens amid the debilitating jellyfish stings that derailed Nyad’s third attempt, in September 2011, to make the swim. It was her second failed attempt that year.
She first attempted the Cuba-Florida swim, with a shark cage, in 1978 at age 28, at the height of her open swimming career. She called it quits after swimming from the Bahamas to Florida, and then spent the next three decades working in broadcasting and the sports industry.
She reignited her dream of swimming from Havana to the Keys in 2010, but poor weather conditions delayed her attempt until the following year, when she failed twice. A fourth attempt in 2012 was halted after Nyad, again suffering from jellyfish stings, was pulled from the water twice during life-threatening storms.
Nyad writes that her team’s patience waned in 2013, but she pressed on, determined to finish what she had repeatedly started. Wearing a specialized mask and stinger suit to protect herself from jellyfish rising to the surface during the night, Nyad finally lucked out with favorable currents that sped her toward Key West. She stepped ashore on Labor Day 2013 after swimming roughly 110 miles in about 53 hours.
Nyad gives the controversy that followed her victory — public skepticism from other open water marathon swimmers who doubted her account of the swim — a single paragraph in the book, and then she returns to the internal struggles and payoffs that come in pursuit of a 35-year dream. (For anyone still looking for more data to confirm Nyad’s path through the Florida Straits, she says she has the GPS devices used during her swim in a bank vault for safekeeping.)
“Find a Way” makes clear how Nyad did everything her way, even if she was out of step with the rest of the open water swimming community. She didn’t keep up with how marathon swimmers started to codify their events during her 30-year absence from the water — and she didn’t much care when it came to jumping back into the Florida Straits.
She had her vision for the swim, her internal playlists and tricks to occupy her mind during the long hours in the water, her hand-picked crew of supporters and her own expectations to manage. She may not have maliciously flouted any rules, but she wasn’t looking for input from outside her protective bubble, either.
Nyad developed her self-reliance and obsessive drive as a traumatized child. She writes rawly about the sexual assaults inflicted by her swim coach and the con artist who raised her, even as they pushed her to fulfill what she saw as her destiny as a swimmer.
Maybe some readers will find inspiration in Nyad’s triumphs over adversity. In “Find a Way,” though, Nyad’s ambitions don’t come across as triumphant so much as needy.
In person, Nyad can be abrasive and takes up all the oxygen in the room. Her memoir reads much the same way, as if by being the loudest to proclaim the preciousness of life she can quiet her unresolved demons.
‘Find a Way’
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