Who Is Diana Nyad? 6 Things to Know About Dancing With the Stars Season 18 Celeb
Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/ABC    

Dancing With The Stars

Who Is Diana Nyad? 6 Things to Know About Dancing With the Stars Season 18 Celeb

There are five athletes competing on Dancing With the Stars Season 18 and one of them is long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. She’s been famous for breaking swimming records since the 1970s, and she did it again this past September when she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. And she’s 64! So if she can do that only a few months ago, she probably has enough stamina to leave the spring cast’s young’uns in the dust. Here are six things to know about Diana, who’ll be dancing with new pro competitor Henry Byalikov.

1. She made history on her fifth attempt. They say DWTS isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and Diana has shown she doesn’t give up easily. It was her dream for 35 years to swim from Cuba to Florida (where she lived, in part, growing up). Diana told Out Magazine a lot of the ocean swimming she did back in the ‘70s was filled with anger from past sexual abuse, and that fueled her determination. That determination paid off in 2013 on her fifth Cuba/Florida attempt, when she made history as the first person to swim from Havana to Key West without the aid of a shark cage. She swam 110.86 miles in 52 hours, 54 minutes, 18 seconds. It’s exhausting just to think about!

Who Is Diana Nyad? 6 Things to Know About Dancing With the Stars Season 18 Celeb
Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC    

2. Her arms are covered with jellyfish scars. Jellyfish have played the role of adversary in Diana's story. As the New York Times relayed in 2011, two hours into one Cuba/Florida attempt, she was stung by jellyfish and had to get medical treatment. She resumed swimming and kept going for 24 hours until the jellyfish stung again. That time, she had to leave the water and spent four hours getting oxygen, painkillers, epinephrine and prednisone. She still went in to try again after that, but her stings slowed her rate and she couldn’t make headway against the current. The Times has a photo of Diana flexing her right arm and you can see jellyfish stings all over her. Battle scars!

3. She once lost 29 pounds in 40 hours. Any weight lost on DWTS just isn't going to compare. In the same NY Times article, they wrote about her swimming feats in the '70s, when she broke the speed record swimming around Manhattan and set a distance record from the Bahamas to Florida. Also, they added, she once lost 29 pounds in 40 hours of swimming. They noted that marathon swimmers often intentionally gain weight before a swim, then lose it before they finish. Is that the best diet ever or the worst?

4. She's fluent in three languages. In addition to English, Diana speaks fluent French and Spanish, and apparently a little bit of German too.

5. She wrote a book about a DWTS Season 17 competitor. Diana has written three books — Other Shores, about her life and distance swimming; Basic Training for Women; and Boss of Me: The Keyshawn Johnson Story, a biography of the NFL player and guy who unfortunately was eliminated first last fall on DWTS Season 17. Diana has been a sports broadcaster for NPR, Fox Sports, ABC and others for 30 years. Speaking of books, though, she's also currently writing her memoir, which is due out in 2015.

6. She's an atheist — although Oprah doesn't really agree. This past October, Diana sat down with Oprah Winfrey on OWN's Super Soul Sunday, and they bared their souls on the topic of religion. Diana considers herself an atheist, but also a spiritual person. She said her definition of God is humanity and the love of humanity. Oprah said she doesn’t see Diana as an atheist if she believes in the awe, wonder, and mystery of the world. “I think you can be an atheist who doesn’t believe in an overarching being who created all of this and sees over it,” Diana said. “But there’s spirituality because we human beings, and we animals, and maybe even we plants, but certainly the ocean and the moon and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.” Oprah said she believes that, and that's why whenever she enters or leaves her yard, she says "Hello trees!"

Do you think Diana could also set a record as the oldest person to win Dancing With the Stars? We’ve yet to have a champion in their 60s, so maybe the time is right. If not, maybe she can come back and try four more times!

DWTS Season 18 premieres Monday, March 17 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Sources: New York Times, The Raw Story, Out Magazine