Is NYAD a true story? Diana Nyad's long-distance swim

The extraordinary story has viewers wanting to know what NYAD is based on

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad pictured swimming from below
(Image credit: Netflix)

A new film has landed on Netflix, telling the story of a determined long-distance swimmer who achieved a lifelong dream at 64 years old. And viewers want to know: Is NYAD based on a true story? 

It took Diana Nyad five attempts and more than 30 years to make the 110-mile swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West in Florida. But despite her inspirational story being one of determination, Diana's achievement is not without controversy, and her claim of being the first person to swim across the Florida Straits without any kind of enclosure has never been officially recognised. 

Now, a new film is recounting her journey to achieving a lifelong dream, and for biopic fans wondering what to watch in November, this is one to check out. Released in cinemas in October, NYAD has now arrived on Netflix - much to the delight of subscribers. Viewers have been quick to snap up the new release, with many wanting to know where Diana Nyad is now, ten years on from her controversial swim. And just like another film on the streaming service has subscribers wondering if Pain Hustlers is based on a true story, the same questions are now being asked of NYAD

Is NYAD a true story?

NYAD is based on the true story of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and her coach and friend Bonnie Stoll. In 2013, Diana became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage, at age 64.

However, as with all TV adaptations, Netflix's NYAD has adapted the story for entertainment purposes. Co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi previously told Vanity Fair, "We don't say, ‘It’s based on a true story,’ we don't say, ‘It is a true story’ - but it is a true story. It’s about this idea of truth."

And speaking about the controversy surrounding Diana Nyad's swim, Elizabeth added, "I’m just a little tired of the internet trying to tear down a woman who’s complicated and outspoken and owns who she is. We went to great lengths in the film to be able to live up to that. She is a complicated person who has a complicated life."

Diana Nyad herself was involved in the making of the film, which has helped create authentic moments throughout, as well as the accuracy overall story. Even the hallucinations Diana had in one scene in the water after she became delirious during the swim, were based on a real experience that Diana had. 

With that being said, several sections of the film are not based on real events. One in particular is the moment when Diana's coach, Bonnie Stoll, jumps into the water alongside her. 

In this scene, the Florida coast is in sight but Diana is struggling with the physical demands of the swim, so Bonnie dives in next to her. In reality, this never happened and was in actual fact the idea of Jodie Foster, who plays Bonnie in the film. 

In addition, the film shows Diana swimming while accompanied by a single boat, but in reality, her swim was supported by a fleet of five vessels, with a crew of more than 40 people.

Annett Bening as Diana Nyad in the sea with a boat behind her

(Image credit: Netflix)

What is NYAD based on?

NYAD is based on the life of Diana Nyad, and her attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida across 110 miles of open ocean. The film is based on her memoir, Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman's Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream.

Diana attempted the swim four times before finally achieving her dream on her fifth attempt in 2013. She first tried the crossing in 1978 at age 28, and then twice more in 2011, before finally achieving it two years later at age 64. 

However, her eventual success was shrouded by controversy. Her crossing was never formally ratified by the World Of Open Water Swimming (WOWSA), and the Guinness Book of World Records revoked her achievement.

Following renewed interest in her swim ahead of the film, WOWSA cited the fact that the rules Diana Nyad said she followed came from an unverified organisation as the reason they did not ratify the swim, along with inconsistent statements from crew members on the trip and missing observer entries for over nine hours. 

However, Diana has always denied any accusations that she may have cheated. "I’m an absolutely aboveboard person who never cheated on anything in my whole life," she previously told the New York Times, adding, "They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honour the accurate information."

Meanwhile, co-director Jimmy Chin recently told Vanity Fair, "As documentary filmmakers, the first thing we did was to look into some of these criticisms - and found that they weren’t valid.

"When you are at the forefront of your sport, you have a target on your back. Especially if you’re an outspoken athlete like Diana might be considered."

What did Diana Nyad do?

Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage, over 30 years after her initial attempt at the swim. 

Diana had been a noted athlete since the 1970s, gaining widespread fame for completing a swim around the island of Manhattan in 1975 in a time of 7 hours 57 minutes - breaking the record by nearly an hour. 

She also broke the women's world record for the 22-mile swim from Capri to Naples in Italy, according to The New Yorker, and became the first person to swim Lake Ontario in the north-to-south direction. 

Diana Nyad sat on stage giving a talk

(Image credit: Getty Images)

At the age of 28, she first attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida, but was unsuccessful after high winds forced her to abandon the journey. 

On her 30th birthday, in what was to be her last "competitive" swim, she set a world record by swimming the 102 miles from North Bimini Island, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida in 27 and a half hours. 

Then, at 60 years old, Diana decided to attempt the Cuba to Florida crossing again. It took four years and four more attempts, but she eventually became the first person to complete the swim without the help of a shark cage.

Nyad used only an electronic shark-repellent device, as well as a mask, gloves, booties and a full bodysuit to protect from lethal jellyfish stings. 

Elsewhere on Netflix, we've revealed the Burning Body true story and what All The Light We Cannot See is based on. If you've been hooked on the streamer's latest hit, Bodies, we reveal everything we know about the possibility of Bodies season 2 and explained the ending of Bodies too.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.