Sorting by

Skip to main content

It follows the same basic plotline of all sport films. The athlete works to overcome a seemingly impossible obstacle, and the audience cheers him/her/them/the team along. The plot is simple, but effective. I finally watched Nyad while wrapping gifts a few weeks ago. I assumed it would follow the same plot of most sport films and thus did not require my full attention. I was wrong. Nyad, starring Annette Benning and Jodi Foster, follows the story of Diane Nyad, a swimmer that swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64. The film is well done. By the end, I was moved. I had tears in my eyes as Diane limped and stumbled to the beach after her historic swim, her words slurred from exhaustion after swimming about 110 miles in almost 53 hours, and said to the cheering crowd:

“one is, we should never ever give up!
two is, you’re never too old to chase your dreams!
Three is, this looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team!”

The acting is superb, and I was inspired by Benning, Foster and the story of Diane Nyad. I was also struck by the lack of attention paid to aging or looks in the film. No one talks or jokes about wearing sunblock or how she looks in a swimsuit. Some attention is given to a search for sponsorship, but the discussions are about finding money, not about how she looks. Its refreshing to see women in a film that pays no attention to looks or sex appeal. As I noted in a previous post, it seems as if the joy of aging is firmly rejecting the unrealistic expectations about looks in particular and being at home with yourself. And yet it is increasingly hard to find accurate representations of aging in our youth obsessed culture.

Image and sport are so closely connected, especially in the 21st century. But should it be that way? Why does image matter so much? Nyad had nothing to do with image but everything to do with grit, determination, training, and teamwork. I also watched the Beckham documentary about UK soccer legend David Beckham. Beckham has worked hard to craft a particular image of himself as not just a (retired) athlete, but as a philanthropist, actor, model, spouse, father, and current (recent) president and co-owner of the MLS team Inter Miami. At the end of the documentary, various retired soccer players talk about retirement. They discuss how they are all adrenaline junkies and miss the crowd, miss the adrenaline of playing and scoring (and being famous?) and explain that once you retire, it is impossible to find that same fix of playing to roaring, adoring fans in a big stadium. But that doesn’t stop retired players from trying. Beckham hasn’t played since 2013, but is still seeking public attention. I’m surprised Beckham wasn’t listed a producer of the documentary, but he features the documentary about himself so prominently on his website, which seems an endorsement of the project that has returned him to the public eye. The documentary was a finely crafted image of Beckham – how hard he worked, how much his dad pushed him to achieve perfection, and how much he loved and loves his spouse and kids. It showed his regrets at his mistakes like his world cup red card ejection and possible infidelity that he never exactly admitted to. Is that what the fans want? A hero who is really just like us (even though he isn’t), and hard working and deserving of everything he has achieved? Is his fame tied to his talent? Athleticism? Or his looks?

The story of Diane Nyad connected with me because it had nothing to do with her image. It was about her prickly persistence, her rejection of what people told her was appropriate and possible for her age, and her team.

May we all be so brave in this new year.

Photo by Quan Tran on Unsplash

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


  • Angela Wagenveld says:

    Yes! We watched it too. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. Refreshing!

  • Anita says:

    While I appreciate the point you are making, Rebecca, Reformed Journal readers may be interested to know about Diana Nyad’s pattern of exaggerations and lies. This story with documentation reminded me of the Lance Armstrong scandal:

  • RZ says:

    Perhaps then, per Anita’s perspective, the film director gets more credit than the swimmer. The greatest athletes are rarely the greatest persons. Fame/power ruins us. And we do live in a marketing age where looking good supercedes being good. Thanks for this reminder, Rebecca.

    • The film’s directors probably knew about Nyad’s compulsive lying and fraudulent claims but chose to ignore both.

      Co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi famously told Vanity Fair magazine that “We don’t say, ‘[The movie’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.”

      In the same Vanity Fair article, Vasarhelyi’s husband, co-director Jimmy Chin, said that, “As documentary filmmakers, the first thing we did was to look into some of these criticisms—and found that they weren’t valid.” I suspect all they did was ask the one experienced marathon swimmer with whom we know they consulted.

      He’s one of two or three marathoners who are huge Nyad fans. The rest of us have our doubts. Check out this one particular lie she tells, and then see if you can trust another word she says:

      (BTW, even what she says about box jellyfish isn’t true:

  • I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. I remember her swim, which became a major news story at the time. It was exciting then and still is.

    May God bless you with a healthy New Year.

Leave a Reply