Nyad: The true story behind Netflix's marathon swimmer film

Annette Bening and Jodie Foster take on the ‘Mount Everest’ of swims

Annette Bening stars in Nyad. (Netflix)
Annette Bening stars in Nyad. (Netflix)

Out on Netflix now, Nyad tells the inspirational story of one woman’s determination to take on and ultimately conquer an incredibly perilous feat of aquatic athleticism.

Annette Bening takes the lead as Diana Nyad, a former athlete turned sports journalist who hits pause at the age of 60 to return to the competitive dreams of her youth.

Soon, she becomes obsessed with completing a 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida - a stretch so difficult, it’s often referred to as the “Mount Everest” of swims.

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With the support of her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster), Nyad decides to make things harder on herself by trying to beat the swim without the help of a shark cage for protection.

The film marks the fictional feature debut from Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the critically acclaimed filmmakers behind endurance documentaries like Free Solo and The Rescue.

But is this incredible story based on true events? Read on to find out.

Is NYAD based on a true story?

Annette Bening in Nyad. (Netflix)
Nyad is from the directing duo behind Free Solo. (Netflix)

Nyad is based on a true story and the feats achieved throughout the life of competitive long-distance swimmer and sports journalist Diana Nyad.

Nyad made headlines as far back as 1975 when she swam around the circumference of Manhattan. She followed this up with another impressive trek, this time making her way from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

In 1978, Nyad undertook her first attempt at the swim upon which Netflix’s new movie is based from Havana to Key West. However, despite clocking in 76 miles - most of which whilst in a steel shark cage - it ultimately proved unsuccessful when high winds forced her to abandon the journey.

Jodie Foster stars alongside Annette Bening in Nyad. (Netflix)
Jodie Foster stars alongside Annette Bening in Nyad. (Netflix)

Undeterred, Nyad eventually circled back to the idea of swimming from Cuba to Florida in 2010 and relocated to the Caribbean island of St Maarten to start training.

For the marathon swim to be successful, Nyad and her team of trainers needed perfect weather conditions and had to wait for the ocean water to be just right. Too cold and she might get hypothermia during the 110-mile journey. Too warm and she could dehydrate.

The real Diana Nyad took five attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida. (Alamy)
The real Diana Nyad took five attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida. (Alamy)

Nyad’s second attempt took place 33 years after her first in August 2011 and saw her swim without the use of a shark cage but with her crew utilizing ‘shark shields’ to help protect from animal attacks. However, a mixture of factors including high winds, shoulder pain and asthma forced her to abandon the task after spending 29 hours in the water.

In September of that same year, Nyad tried again but was forced to finish early once more, this time after spending 41 hours submerged and travelling 67 nautical miles. Citing strong winds blowing her off course, Nyad also suffered painful stings from Jellyfish and a marine creature called the Portuguese Man-of-War.

2012 saw Nyad make her fourth attempt at swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage before stormy weather and excessive jellyfish stings once again forced her to finish without completing her goal.

Nyad had to endure intense weather and jellyfish stings whilst training for this feat. (Alamy)
Nyad had to endure intense weather and jellyfish stings whilst training for this feat. (Alamy)

Despite this, Nyad was firing on all cylinders and had covered the farthest distance out of all of her attempts so far.

This trial by fire paid off and when Nyad set off on her fifth attempt on 31 August 2013, it became her winning trip. Supported by a team of 35 people, Nyad had no shark cage but this time wore a special silicone mask, gloves, bodysuit and goggles to protect her from marine life stings.

She eventually completed her goal on 2 September, 53 hours after she had first set off.

Nyad is streaming on Netflix now. Watch the trailer below: