I desperately wanted to like “The Other Shore” because I greatly admire the gutsy Diana Nyad, but this documentary doesn’t get where it seems to be going. If you’re already familiar with Nyad and her most recent attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, you’ll already know how this documentary ends and director Timothy Wheeler doesn’t make the journey there worthwhile.
For those who aren’t familiar with Nyad, she’s a more reticent female Jack LaLanne. LaLanne, who died on 23 January 2011, used to celebrate his birthday by performing some fantastic physical feat. I admired his pep and perseverance.
Nyad, now 63, was inducted into the U.S. National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1986 and into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003. What has she done? She doesn’t swim fast, she swims long. In 1974, she swam a 22-mile Bay of Napes race for a women’s record time of 8 hours, 11 minutes. The next year, ate 26, she then swam the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan. That wasn’t enough. Three years later, she made her first attempt to swim from Havana to Key West. She failed and this would be her unfulfilled dream.
What she did do was swim 102 miles for her 30th birthday from North Bimini Island (Bahamas) to Juno Beach in Florida. She then retired to become a journalist for NPR (a weekly five-minute piece on sports for “All Things Considered” and formerly the host of “The Savvy Traveler” on public radio.
Nyad has written for the New York Times, Newsweek and other publications and wrote three books, including the 1978 “Other Shores.” Openly gay, she has been a role model for the GLBT community.
Then, she came out of retirement, attempting again and again to swim from Cuba to Florida. beginning in 2010 when she was 60. Yes, she wanted to swim for days and miles at age 60. At 60, she trained for a year and then made attempt number two in August 2011.
I’ve never been to Florida or Cuba, but I’ve been on a California beach when the warning cry goes out for jellyfish. I’ve seen jellyfish washed ashore. I don’t know how it feels to be stung, but I know it is much, much worse than a bee sting and I already know all about those. Nyad knows about jellyfish. In August 2011, she was stung twice by a box jellyfish before quitting. Only a month later, in September, She made another attempt but met with box jellyfish and a Portuguese Man-of-War.
Her most recent attempt was in August 2012, but those darned jellyfish along with a storm at sea, ended that attempt. Along the way to this last attempt, we learn what makes Nyad swim. At first it was a means of anger management. Nyad had been sexually abused as a child, first by her stepfather and later by a swim coach.
That was obviously long ago and far away since Nyad is now past 60. What she will do now and where she will go beyond Cuba is the question that this documentary doesn’t answer. Without that, the journey seems to not have a goal. For that reason, I’d like to see more of Nyad with her life partner and the world beyond those failed marathon Cuba-Florida swimming attempts.
You can follow “The Other Shore” on its official website or its Facebook page. The movie is not yet available on Amazon (you can watch “The Channel” with Diana Nyad) nor on Netflix (DVD availability date unknown). For women (and men) over 30, Diana Nyad should serve as an inspiration and this documentary can help to that end.