Nyad was born in New York City on August 22, 1949 to stockbroker William Sneed and his wife Lucy Curtis. Her father died when she was three and her mother soon remarried Aristotle Nyad, a Greek land developer, who adopted Diana.
The family then moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she grew up and began swimming seriously in grade seven. She was enrolled at the elite Pine Crest School in the mid-1960s, swimming under the tutelage of Olympian (and Hall of Fame) coach Jack Nelson. Before graduating she won three Florida state high school championships in the Backstroke (at 100 and 200 yards). She dreamed of swimming in the 1968 Summer Olympics, but in 1966 she spent three months in bed with endocarditis, an infection of the heart, and when she began swimming again she had lost her speed.
After graduating from Pine Crest School in 1967 she entered Emory University, but was thrown out of school for jumping out a fourth-floor dormitory window wearing a parachute. She then enrolled at Lake Forest College in Illinois, where she played tennis for the Foresters and resumed swimming, concentrating on distance events. She soon came to the attention of Buck Dawson, director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, who introduced her to marathon swimming. She began training at his Camp Ak-O-Mak in Ontario, Canada and set a women's world record of 4 hours and 22 minutes in her first race, a 10-mile swim in Lake Ontario in July 1970 (finishing 10th overall). After graduating from Lake Forest College with degrees in English and French, Nyad returned to south Florida to continue training with Dawson.
Diana Nyad was inducted into the United States' National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 2003 was honored with her induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. According to her "Speaker Bio" posted for the Gold Star Speakers Bureau in 2006, she is also a Hall of Famer at both her college, Lake Forest College in Illinois (where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa), and at her (private) high school, Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
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