Wonder Woman lives, and a lot of doctors are amazed. Her name is Diana Nyad, and last Monday she swam around Manhattan Island, beating a 48-year-old record for the feat by 59 minutes while avoiding various deceased small animals, not to mention hepatitis, typhoid and dysentery. Her time for the 28-mile circumnavigation was 7 hours and 57 minutes, and afterward she took an extended vacation. Extended for Nyad, that is—one day.
Following that indulgence, she was up the next morning at 5:45 to eat two raw eggs and run three miles through city streets to Barnard College, where she is swimming coach. The Manhattan swim would be her last for many months, so she did not have her typical city workout—five hours of laps in the pool, nonstop. But she ran an additional two miles of wind sprints, coached until 8:30, then rushed downtown for her squash lesson, squash practice and calisthenics. Twice she has done 1,025 situps, about 900 more than an average Superman can do, and she says, "I don't even do situps." At 12:30 she ate a lunch of raw meat and raw vegetables—she eats raw food most of the time—while glancing at some homework (she is studying for a doctorate in comparative literature at NYU) and from three to five she practiced her squash again. On Saturday she ran 10 miles, on Sunday 15, and on both days she played more squash.
For six years Diana Nyad has been at or near the top among the world's professional female marathon swimmers, and now she wants to dominate another sport, squash—or, rather, she plans to. "What I really want more than anything," she says, "is respect in the sports world." And she seems about to get it. She should: she is alive, after all.
Why the Manhattan swim, Nyad was asked last week, and she replied, "The world is four-fifths water, but the point is to swim where the people are." And the networks, too. Now, after surviving the fast-running but fetid waters surrounding Manhattan, it remains to be seen how she copes with the New York news media, which is suddenly infatuated with her.
She has already gotten by ABC's Howard Cosell, who had her on his show Saturday night. CBS has done a documentary, NBC television has interviewed her for a sports announcing job, a publisher wants her to write a book and a big-time agent has promised her up to $75,000 a year in endorsements, about five times as much as she has made in her whole swimming career.
Clearly Diana Nyad struck a chord of some kind. About the only New Yorkers who go near their rivers are drunk or suicidal, yet here is this beguiling 25-year-old woman, attractive, ingenuous and suddenly so vulnerable.
She had failed on her first attempt, made late last month, as Hurricane Eloise soaked down the Northeast. That time, after 6 hours and 25 minutes in the water, she had reached the Battery, at the southern tip of Manhattan, at dusk and in rain that was pouring down as if the world were ending. Wind was ripping in her face on that wild, black night in the heart of one of the world's busiest harbors, and huge ferryboats seemed to be all about her. Foghorns sounded. Tugboats sheared menacingly near, and Nyad strained against a tide that should have turned but hadn't. For an hour she got nowhere, and finally she hung lifelessly in the water, unresponsive to shouts and to lights in her face. She was lifted out of the slime and dumped into her trainer's boat, then transferred to a police launch. Her face was gray, and she moaned, weakly, "So cold, so cold..." and, "I want a bath. Has anyone got a bath ...?" She seemed barely alive. She was rushed to a hospital, TV and newspaper reporters trailing in her wake. An hour later, cameras whirring beside her bed, she was talking about next time. "Daring Diana," the papers began calling her.
It wasn't that she hadn't planned her swim. For eight days she researched the complex ocean tides and river currents, getting cooperation from the city but little encouragement.
"What do you do here?" she asked the Harbor Police.
"We discourage people like you," she was told.