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Marathon swimming legend Diana Nyad reverses on trans inclusion in sports

Nyad says ‘all women are negatively affected by the ways transgender women are targeted by discrimination and abuse in sports and elsewhere.’

Visionary Women presents Grit, Guts, and Grace with Diana Nyad and Norma Bastidas
Diana Nyad, now the subject of a feature film, said that trans inclusion in sports she took a “deep dive” into the issue and “stands firmly for inclusion”
Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Visionary Women

Marathon swimmer Diana Nyad has always been stubbornly confident and willing to speak and stand out. These qualities help to define her as an endurance athlete who chased and achieved impossible challenges, including perhaps her greatest which is the subject of an upcoming Netflix biopic.

The feature film, with Annette Bening in the lead role as a 60-something Nyad, focuses on her journey to her successful 2013 attempt at an unprecedented Cuba-to-Florida swim after four previous attempts failed. Jodie Foster takes on a supporting role as best friend/coach Bonnie Stoll. The movie will debut on Netflix Nov. 3.

Nyad, named as part of the Out 100 for 2023, made a different grand debut when interviewed by the magazine for their special edition this week. Speaking out against trans women in women’s sports in a Washington Post op-ed last year, Nyad stated that after “a lot of deep dive of thinking” since that article, she has come to a different view on inclusion.

In the February 2022 article titled “Celebrate trans athletes. But give cisgender women a fair shot at victory”, she echoed many of the prevalent talking points at that time. Much of the attention centered around then-collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas, and all the debate therein.

“Simply reaching an authority’s acceptable testosterone level should not qualify a trans woman to compete in the female category as currently designed,” Nyad wrote. “The physical disparity remains too great for true equal performance potential.”

Diana Nyad swims from Cuba to Florida
Nyad (right) reached the goal of a successful Havana-to-Key West swim in Sept. 2013 at age 64 after four previous attempts fell short.
Cammy Clark/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A year and a half later, the longtime competitive marathon swimmer has noted how she has taken a step back to take many steps forward.

“I have come to understand that the science is far more complex than I thought, and there are clearly more educated experts than I who are creating policy to ensure that elite sports are both fair and inclusive of all women,” Nyad told Out. “I regret weighing in on that conversation and any harm I may have caused.”

She also said the tone of the debate, and the legislative climate that followed, affected her. Between February 2022 and now, over 400 different pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation, much of it aimed at transgender youth, have been introduced, debated or voted on across 45 states. In 23 states, transgender student-athletes are prohibited from participating in interscholastic athletics.

The world governing bodies of cycling, swimming, and track and field have banned transgender women from women’s competition, with others following suit with restrictive regulations of their own. Nyad noted that these negative trends have influenced her changed and positive perspective.

“The climate for the transgender community has turned dire and dangerous. I now see how all women are negatively affected by the ways transgender women are targeted by discrimination and abuse in sports and elsewhere,” she said to Out. “I am today firmly on the side of inclusion. Trans women athletes deserve our utmost respect.”

“I stand with them in the world of sports and in the fight for full equality for all trans people,” she continued. “We are all sisters and siblings under the blue sky, and we should all have equal opportunities to play the sports we choose, the sports we love.”

In a time and tenor where it seems that many are entrenched in an exclusionary position on these issues, to see an elder in sport taking a second look is important.

Ten years ago, a fatigued but proud Nyad said after her epic swim, “You are never too old to chase your dreams.”

This week, Nyad confirmed that one is also never too old to keep learning.