Jack Nelson: Diana Nyad’s Coach Died in 2014

Netflix’s sports biographical film ‘Nyad’ sheds light on Coach Jack Nelson’s presence in the life of renowned swimmer Diana Nyad. When Diana was an emerging swimmer, Nelson played an integral role in motivating her. However, their mentor-mentee relationship came to an end when he hurt her. In reality, Nelson was a popular and controversial figure, especially after Diana’s sexual assault allegations against him. After watching the film, we were intrigued to find out what happened to him after Diana’s school days or where he is now, only to discover that he died in November 2014, over a year after the latter swam from Cuba to Florida.

From a Swimmer to a Coach

Jack Nelson became a swimming coach after representing the country at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics by competing in the men’s 200-meter butterfly team. Nelson finished fourth in the event. He then became the head coach of the country’s women’s swim team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. His team won a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay, solidifying his status as a coach. Diana’s path crossed with Nelson’s when she was studying in the seventh grade at Pine Crest School, Florida, where the latter served as a coach. She recalled in a 2014 New Yorker interview that he told her that she could become a “star” with his assistance. “Finally, there’s somebody who truly is a leader and cares about me and thinks I’m going to capture the world,” Diana told Ariel Levy about Nelson for the interview.

When Diana won state championships within a year, she started to believe Nelson’s words. “I had him [Nelson] on a pedestal—he was it. I was just dying for some leadership and I selected him. And I told him a lot of those stories about the parents,” the swimmer added. When she was fourteen, as per the same The New Yorker interview, Nelson forced himself on her at his house. Diana added that he molested her after persuading her to meet him in hotels, his office, and his car. According to Diana, Nelson wanted the same in return for his help as a coach.

When Diana learned that one of her teammates had a similar experience, they reported the same to their headmaster, only for Nelson to leave the school at the end of the school year. Despite the expiration of the statute of limitations, Diana prosecuted Nelson in the court of public opinion in 2007. Nelson denied the allegations and claimed that Diana told him once that she “wanted to be a writer, and wanted to have the ability to write things that were not true and make people believe them,” as per The New Yorker interview.

How Did Jack Nelson Die?

Jack Nelson died on November 5, 2014, in Delray Beach, Florida, at the age of 82. The cause of his death was Alzheimer’s disease. His survivors included his wife Sherrill Horn, three daughters from his previous marriage, Sherrill’s three children from another marriage, and fifteen grandchildren and step-grandchildren. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1994 and the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009.

“This is my Coach who molded my Swimming Career. We Honor YOU today!!!! Thank You for always being there, for being such an Incredible Motivator, and [for] Believing in ALL OF US WHO SWAM FOR YOU. We are Never going to forget YOU,” Olympic bronze medalist Paige Zemina shared after Nelson’s death. Diana reacted to Nelson’s death in a feature she wrote in 2017 for The New York Times. “Up until his death in 2014, Coach was celebrated by the coaching community, his town, his church. He made it into halls of fame and to the top of the coaching pyramid, the Olympic Games. And so is woven the fabric of the epidemic,” the swimmer wrote.

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