Jack and Diana

Swimmer Diana Nyad says coach Jack Nelson molested her 40 years ago. Now Nelson´s returning fire.

Dillon declined to comment to New Times, citing the ongoing litigation. If he is the author of the damning packet, as Nelson believes, it marks a break in his relations with Nelson. Nelson was Dillon´s own coach starting when Dillon was 6 years old. In 2004, Dillon referred to him as ¨my second father.¨

A lot of people including Diana Nyad saw in Nelson a father figure. His charm and larger-than-life personality coupled with his winning record had swimmers from all over the world looking to him for guidance and leadership.

Jack Nelson has been inducted into six halls of fame.
Jack Nelson has been inducted into six halls of fame.

Over four decades, Nelson has coached the Fort Lauderdale swim team, 30 high school state championship teams, the University of Miami swim team, the U.S. National Team, the U.S. 1976 Women´s Olympic team, and a total of 40 Olympians, including gold medalists and American record holders. In 1993, the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year. He´s been inducted into six halls of fame, including the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Nyad´s career has been less orthodox. She swam for Nelson at the Pine Crest Preparatory School in Fort Lauderdale and later found fame as a marathon swimmer, sometimes in solo events of her own devising. In September 1975, she tried to set the record for the fastest 27-mile swim around Manhattan. Instead, she wound up hospitalized for exhaustion. But 11 days later, she swam the island in 7:37:13, breaking the unofficial record by 59 minutes. In 1978, she attempted the first recorded swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys but was thwarted by rough water, fatigue, and poisonous jellyfish. Until 1997, Nyad held the world record for the longest unaided ocean swim for a man or a woman: Over two days, she swam 102.5 miles from the Bahamas to Florida.

Nyad subsequently worked as a Fox Sports News senior correspondent, a CNBC host, and an ABC Sports announcer. She has hosted a national weekly radio show, The Savvy Traveler, and is a sports correspondent for National Public Radio´s Marketplace. Now she´s working on a series of children´s books about athletes who overcame tough childhoods. For a long time, she´s been talking about hers.

In 1989, Nyad appeared on a live TV talk show People Are Talking with the caption ¨Raped by Coach¨ beneath her name. Intensely angry still, she recounted Nelson´s abuse, saying it began when she was 14. He told her that she started it by writing ¨I love coach Nelson¨ on her notebook, she said, and that their relationship was so special that no one else would understand. Nyad didn´t tell her mother what was going on, she said, because they weren´t very close and she didn´t want to embarrass her. ¨She was a single parent,¨ she said. ¨This would show she had been a failure as a mother.¨ In 2003, Nyad brought up Nelson´s alleged abuse again, this time in her induction speech into the International Swimming Hall of Fame at FLAC.

Still, no newspaper in South Florida has ever mentioned Nyad´s accusations, according to the Nexis database. Nelson´s lawyer, Cooke, says he knows why. ¨They don´t want to bring bad light on Fort Lauderdale,¨ he said recently. ¨In a lot of these cases, this is public responsibility. Where was the public? Where were the police? How come they didn´t do anything?¨ Cooke theorizes that an editor would say, ¨OK, Diana Nyad is a nut...´ That´s why they aren´t publishing it.¨

In statements to police and the affidavit given to city commissioners, Nyad says the first incident with Nelson took place in Nelson´s home in May 1964, when she was a 14-year-old freshman at Pine Crest. Nyad was supposed to be resting for a state swim meet later that day. ¨Without any warning or provocation whatsoever, Jack Nelson violently ripped off my swimsuit,¨ Nyad says.

She recalled Nelson breathing hard, shoving his tongue in her ear and mouth, and saying he loved her over and over. ¨He put his penis into the opening of my vagina,¨ she told police. ¨But I was locked up tight as a drum, and he couldn´t enter me.¨ Nyad says Nelson ejaculated on her stomach, then got up and left. Nyad says she then vomited on the bed, washed up, and told herself, ¨This never happened.¨

Later that night, for the first time in two years, she lost at the state meet. Afterward, she says she swam to the bottom of the pool and screamed into the water, ¨This is not going to ruin my life!¨

The second incident occurred in either 1965 or 1966 in Nelson´s office at Pine Crest, Nyad says. He had called all the swimmers in, one by one, to talk about the U.S. national swim meet, which was to take place the next day. But the coach had other plans for Nyad, she says. As soon as she sat down, he ¨turned into a gargoyle,¨ she says. His voice got husky. He approached her, yanked up her shirt, and took her bathing suit down.

¨He started saying, It doesn´t matter what you swim... We´re not going to talk about that... Look at these beautiful breasts of yours.¨ Nelson took her into a small bathroom attached to his office, Nyad says, and again tried to penetrate her. ¨I need this. I´m a grown man,¨ Nyad says she was told. ¨You don´t understand this yet, but you will one day. I love you. I love you so much... I need to come inside.¨ Again, Nyad held herself rigid, she says, and Nelson wasn´t able to penetrate her.

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someone answer the question raised by Cooke. What evidence is there? Not word of people who are part of her team. Where is data collect and published by independent sources.


This is an age-old tactic. Let's drag the accusing woman through the mud in order to take the heat off the accused. Yes, he deserves "his day in court" but these kinds of betrayals of trust run so deep and are such a shock to the person who was attacked, that they doubt their own sanity. Especially is they are a teenager. 

They actually feel some loyalty to the person because their lives are so deeply intertwined with the other. It usually happens with a teacher or coach, someone who spends a lot of time with them and crosses all kinds of boundaries in the course of their work together. There needs to be more professional regulations on coaches...they should never be alone with a student, etc. Common sense things. This is a mess and the idea that they are defending themselves because there is a financial contract at stake makes it all the more disgusting. Does headmaster MacMillan's comment mean nothing?