The man more than any other responsible for shaping Fort Lauderdale's swim culture passed away this morning from complications due to Alzheimer's disease. Jack Nelson, 82, was a championship swimmer in his youth and coached multiple champions in Fort Lauderdale, including five Olympic medal winners and four world record holders. Despite his icon status, Nelson's later career was tarnished by accusations of abuse by one of his star pupils, Olympian and National Public Radio commentator Diana Nyad.
New Times confirmed Nelson's passing this morning with Bruce Wigo, CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Nelson passed away at an assisted-living facility in Pompano Beach, Wigo said.
Nelson's own swimming career included world record times in the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly, as well as a spot on the 1956 Summer Olympics in Australia. It was a remarkable achievement for a guy who didn't start swimming until he was 21 years old, according to Nelson's bio at the Hall of Fame.
For decades, Nelson coached the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team. He also coached 30 high school state championship teams in Florida, as well as six U.S. national championship teams. The Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year in 1993. Nelson has also been inducted into six halls of fame.
Nyad, however, has maintained that Nelson sexually abused her and other students while she was still a teen, accusations discussed in a 2007 New Times article, "Jack and Diane."
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.
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