‘Nyad’ Ending Explained & Film Spoilers: Did Jack Nelson Molest Diana In Childhood?


Netflix’s Nyad is a compelling retelling of Diana Nyad’s incredible achievement at the age of 64. When most people spend their 60s in retirement or on vacation, Diana felt empty. She came across a famous line from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” that made her wonder if she had failed to live a meaningful life. Should she simply accept life as it is without fulfilling the dreams she once had?  Diana never wanted to live an ordinary life, and she realized that her only true dream had always been to swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West. At the age of 28, Diana attempted to take on the challenge, but the Westerly Winds threw her off course, and her dream remained unfulfilled. Soon after turning 60, Diana realized that there would never be a better time to chase her dream. She did not wish to be treated like a ‘bag of bones’, and she wanted to prove that nothing is impossible. Supporting Diana in her spectacular journey was her best friend, Bonnie Stoll.

Spoiler Alert

Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Diana always believed that she was destined to become a swimmer, especially because Nyad, in Greek, means water nymph. She proved her talent to the world by swimming around Manhattan at a very tender age. But young Diana didn’t just stop with a single achievement; she went on to swim from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979. While her achievements were incredible, there was one failure from which she never really recovered. Diana failed to complete the Havana-to-Key West swim. After retiring from distance swimming, Diana spent a good deal of her life working as a journalist. Right after hitting 60, Diana felt the need to prove to the world that age can never be a determining factor. She believed she could achieve the unimaginable at 60, and her success would mean the world to people her age who often restrict themselves.

Diana and Bonnie are the best of friends, and according to Diana’s Instagram, the two have been together since April 1980. And Nyad captures the essence of their friendship beautifully. Nyad dreams of the impossible, and Bonnie maps it out to help her translate it into reality. She is the only person who can truly understand every emotion Nyad experiences, making it ideal to coach her. As impossible as the challenge seemed, Diana successfully convinced Bonnie to coach her and join her on the adventure of a lifetime. With Bonnie by her side, Diana felt all the more confident. The past failures initially haunted her, and her body refused to adjust. It was after repeatedly hearing how impossible her dream was that she pushed herself, and she ended up swimming for eight hours straight. That marked the beginning of Diana Nyad’s journey towards her dream.

As Diana prepared for the challenge, Bonnie gathered the support team required for assistance. The first problem they had at hand was the sharks, and this time, instead of a cage, they opted for shark shields that transmitted amplified signals that kept the sharks away. It was because of the navigator that Diana went off track the last time she attempted to swim from Havana to Key West, and it was crucial that they get it right on the second attempt. Bonnie introduced Diana to John Bartlett, who was also known as the King of the Gulf. Once Diana interacted with John, she knew that the man had the knowledge and experience required to keep her on track, and he was immediately brought into the team. In 2011, Diana made her second attempt to cover the distance from Havana, Cuba, to Key West. Soon after she started swimming, Diana experienced excruciating pain in her shoulders. She later suffered an allergic reaction to the medication, and coupled with it were the strong water currents that required her to double her energy. Bonnie decided to pull Diana out. But that did not stop Diana from trying a third time (September 23, 2011) and a fourth time (August 18, 2012).

How Did Diana’s Father And Her Previous Coach Affect Her Present?

Diana was proud of her Nyad surname, and she used to repeatedly discuss how it was her father who fueled her interest in swimming. But gradually, in Nyad, it is revealed that Aristotle Z. Nyad was not her biological father, and as a result, she at times wondered if she truly was the water nymph that she believed she was because of her bloodline. After divorcing her biological father, William L. Sneed Jr., her mother, Lucy Winslow Curtis, married Aristotle, who adopted Diana. But eventually, they separated as a result of constant ugly arguments that impacted Diana’s mental health. Diana was close to her father, and his decision to suddenly leave caused her distress. It was not just her father who broke her confidence but also her coach, Jack Nelson. A celebrated competitive swimmer and coach, Nelson became a figure of inspiration for young Diana when she was enrolled in Pine Crest School. Her admiration for Nelson turned into repulsion after he molested her when she was fourteen. She had to live through the horror until the year she graduated from high school. Diana was not his only victim, and later, she and her teammates reported the assaults, which resulted in the termination of his contract with Pine Crest. Even after the survivors came forward with their experiences, Jack Nelson was not removed from the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In Nyad, we repeatedly witness how these traumatic incidents affected Diana, and even after years had passed, the memories would often take her down a dark path, which continued to cause her pain.

How Did Diana Fulfil Her Impossible Dream?

Before her fourth attempt, John Bartlett warned Diana that it was not the best time to start her journey and that it could be extremely dangerous, but she was hellbent on going for it, and it resulted in another failure. The support team had already dedicated a lot of time to the mission, and when Diana announced that she would go for it for the fifth time, they did not show as much interest. After her argument with Bartlett, he was no longer willing to support her, and he also had a mortgage to pay. Nico was back to work, and Bonnie, too, was emotionally exhausted after watching her best friend nearly succumb in the last few years. But Diana refused to give up. It was not easy for Diana to continue without her best friend by her side. During this time, she realized how important a team was for the success of an athlete. She tried to mend ties with Bartlett, and while he did forgive her, his financial situation made it impossible for him to commit. After Diana left for Havana, Bonnie had a change of heart. She knew she had to be there for her best friend, for better or for worse.

At the end of Nyad, things were finally coming together for the open-water swimmer. Her best friend returned to take on the role of her coach, and her navigator was back as well. Bonnie did not expect John to join them, but she later learned that he was suffering from a terminal illness and that he wanted to make his days count. John believed in Diana’s strength, and he hoped to be there to celebrate her success. Her fifth attempt was interrupted by a shark that approached in her direction, but thankfully, her team was prepared to deal with the situation. Day turned into night, and Diana continued to swim. For the first time, everything was going exactly as planned. With strong currents helping to increase her speed, both John and Bonnie felt hopeful. Diana started to hallucinate, but Bonnie encouraged her to keep on going. The second night, they could finally see the horizon, and Florida was closer than ever before. The next morning, Diana was extremely fatigued, and she could barely make one good stroke. Bonnie knew that all she needed was some support and a push to make it to the horizon. Bonnie jumped into the water, after all, she was the only person who knew how to motivate Diana. With one stroke at a time, Diana was back on track.

Nyad‘s ending recreates the historic moment when Diana reached the shore. With footage from the actual event, the ending was a celebration of an unstoppable woman, accompanied by the most talented support team. Diana and Bonnie’s friendship is truly the driving force behind Nyad. Diana Nyad is an inspiration, and her accomplishments will motivate generations. She proved that age is just a number, and if one is determined to achieve their goal, it is impossible to stop them. Perhaps the fear of not doing the one thing she always dreamed of kept her going.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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