In:In 1978, Diana Nyad, then 29 years old, decided to swim from Havana to Key West, Florida. Like everything this endurance athlete does, he made the challenge seem big; a natural progression, even for someone whose last name comes from the word naiad (water nymph) and who has been accused of having a superiority complex. At around 110 miles, the trip would eclipse his previous achievements, such as circumnavigating the island of Manhattan in less than eight hours. But it wasn’t to be. Strong storms put paid to his experience after he covered almost 80 miles in 42 hours and was blown off course.
However, the Havana-Florida dream lasted. Approaching her 60th birthday, and three decades behind her as a sportscaster, Nyad is back at it again. Unlike last time, he was not swimming in a cage of sharks. Instead, there will be shark divers and electronic shark shields to deter any abnormal jaws in the vicinity. And there was another weapon just as important to his success. Nyads devoted, tough cookie BFF Bonnie Stoll, whom she enlisted as her coach. Stoll watched over her from an escort ship during various failed attempts, during which Nyad was hampered by bad weather, a deadly jellyfish and a severe asthma attack. His final victory came in 2013 at the age of 64.
The story of that 53-hour swim has now been turned into a thrilling Netflix film, Nyad, directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarheli, a husband-and-wife team making their Oscar-winning debut. Climbing documentary Free Solo. Annette Bening is fierce as Nyad, her face as raw and salty as old sea dogs; Jodie Foster is in somewhat softer mode as Stoll.
As a member of the actors’ union Sag-Aftra, the swimmer is not publicizing the film during the current strike, but Stoll, 72, has agreed to appear. Nyad is not indifferent when it comes to self-promotion, while he former coach prefers to hover in the background. Not that anyone is likely to confuse Stoll with a shrinking violet. This former racquetball champion, who still trains Hollywood actors for physically demanding roles, walks into the hotel room where I’m waiting, seats himself in an armchair, and wastes no time voicing his concerns about the film. “I was worried it was going to be a chick flick,” he says, fixing me with a look that seeps through the smokey lenses of his glasses. That’s not a chick flick. It’s a great movie, isn’t it? Having received the answer he wanted, he nods. Okay, he says.
True or not, it’s very refreshing to see a Hollywood movie starring two uncompromising lesbians in late middle age. The couple met about 40 years ago and dated briefly. But we were better off being two golden retrievers running together, Stoll says. As he speaks, I notice a tattoo on his wrist. Diana and I have the same thing, he says. Mine is subtle. His is huge, covering part of the leg. He rolls his eyes as if to say. characteristic of him. It says ishin denshin, which means One Heart, One Mind. But not much talk. What was it like on the boat?
Ah yes, the boat. What made him think Nyad would be able to complete the terrifying and treacherous swim at age 60? I went with him to Mexico, where he was training, and it was clear. he belongs to the water. He is so comfortable there. He wasn’t worried about sharks. A box jellyfish we didn’t know about. They had never been to the Gulf before. Moon jellies, man in war, they will hurt you but not kill you. The box can kill. They almost did. Nyad was badly stung, as was the doctor who jumped into the water to help him. In the next attempt, he put on a silicone mask to protect himself from repeated attacks. Wearing it on screen makes Benning look fantastically monstrous and spectral, like Spirited Away’s extraordinary werewolf.
Stoll says it’s that mental focus that really sets his friend apart. There are very few people in the world who test the human will. I’ve never had tunnel vision like this. Except for another person, he says. Chin, the film’s co-director. He’s this crazy climber. She’s got it, like Diana. He was recently on Everest.
In fact, says Vassarheli, when we meet later, Chin is going home. He didn’t make it, he says. They had weather complications. His expression, though composed, has a patient quality. I knew exactly who I was going to marry and I love him very much, he says diplomatically.
He finds himself in the same position as Stoll. looking to his best friends for support puts his life at risk in pursuit of a dream. The Bonnies’ journey in Nyad is interesting, he says. It’s not like me and Jimmy. I know what you’re doing is dangerous, but I can’t take it from you. So we might as well be here together.
One of the couple’s former subjects is Elon Musk, who appeared in the 2022 documentary Back to Space about the Space X/Nasa mission. What do Nyad and Musk have in common? Vision and drive. See, Diana even offered to do all the stunt swimming. We said no, thank you. At one point he said: I can play by myself. But that’s Diana for you. In the late 1970s, Nyad claimed to have written a Rocky-esque script about his own career. In 2019, he starred in the play “The Swimmer”, where he also wrote: he even roped in a reluctant Stoll, who was sitting atop a lifeguard station on stage, script in hand. Diana turns everything into production, sighs to Stoll, rolling her eyes for the umpteenth time.
It’s surprising how often he downplays his own contribution to the success of his friends. Dianas is the best friend you can have in the world, he says. Much better than me. Why do you say that? He has unconditional love. I only have it for a pet. Not for Diana? Sometimes I really don’t like him. He is so stubborn. There are times when I want to knock him down. He shakes his head. I probably shouldn’t say that. But you see each other every day. And you still love him, don’t you? Love? Yes. That sounds like a no-brainer to me. Okay, so you call it that, he says in a tone that suggests he’s had enough of my stupidity.
His patience runs out when I point out that the swim has never been sanctioned by the World Open Water Swimming Association, which has advised viewers to watch the film with caution given the controversy surrounding the swim. Questions have swirled about the way some data was (or wasn’t) recorded during the swim, and there’s an entire website devoted to Nyad’s disputed claims about his achievements. His supporters, however, believe that these attempts to discredit him are motivated by homophobia and sexism. I feel very free from the idea that a woman can be difficult and sharp-elbowed, suggests Vassarheli.
When I ask Stoll if he thinks ratification will ever happen, he cuts me off. He did it. There are 41 people on our team who say he did it. The film represents a kind of validation. I hope. What did he learn from watching it? I learned that I do this a lot. He wipes his upper lip with his finger, as if wiping off his milky mustache. I never knew. Jodi was incredible. I thought it was really me there.
I tell him that my favorite scene is when Foster, like him, jumps into the water to cheer Benning/Nyad on during the final stretch of the swim, encouraging him to make another stroke, then another, just as his momentum weakens. . Stoll, it turns out, also had tears watching it. I thought it was brilliant, he says brightly. I’m just sorry I didn’t. Huh? Listen, I’ve never jumped in. I never thought about it. I wish I had it now. Ah well, that’s the movie for you. even better than the real thing.
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