Old Lyme broadcaster boasts tie to ‘Nyad’ biopic
Old Lyme ― The upcoming Netflix biopic about swimmer Diana Nyad has resurrected one local journalist’s ’70s-era coverage of the world-class athlete who would go on to swim amid sharks and controversy from Cuba to Florida.
Bob Sirkin, a television and radio news correspondent going back 50 years, originally covered Nyad for ABC over the span of two years when the swimmer was in training for what would prove to be her first failed attempt to swim from Havana to Key West in 1978.
This June, Sirkin donned headphones in a sound booth at the Soundtrack New York recording studio so he could renarrate his original scripts. He said the goal was to bring them up to 21st century sound standards for the upcoming release of the feature film “Nyad.”
The film uses historical footage to augment dramatic performances by four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening as the swimmer and two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster as her best friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll.
Sirkin’s television news segments preceded Nyad’s highly publicized 2013 swim by more than 30 years. He recalled reporting from the deck of a chartered boat while Nyad made her way from Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale on a routine swim to meet her mother for lunch.
He also recalled the famously determined Nyad emerging 42 hours into her first unsuccessful swim from Cuba with blisters, scrapes and bites incurred after winds blew her further and further off course.
“What she put herself up against in those waters, that was something,” he said.
Sirkin’s footage contributed to four segments airing from 1978-79 on “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America,” Sirkin said.
Nyad traded competitive swimming for a career in sports journalism the following year. The film picks up decades later when the 60-year-old, with Stoll’s support, recommitted to achieving her lifelong dream.
Sirkin estimated he rerecorded about 10 minutes of his original coverage for the film. The goal was to duplicate as best he could his original delivery and pacing.
“It took a couple of takes to get it down,” he said.
Now he waits to see how much of his work will make it onto the screen when the film is released in select theaters Oct. 20 and on the streaming platform Nov. 3. He acknowledged a Netflix publicist warned him his voice role would be “very limited.”
“Nyad” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado at the beginning of the month and will debut internationally this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The Nyad segments are among numerous high-profile pieces reported by Sirkin. From the abduction and murder of at least 30 Black children and young adults in Atlanta during the late 1970s to the new millennium’s war on terror, his work has taken him across the country and overseas.
Sirkin’s perception of Nyad aligns with proponents who view her as a strong athlete rather than critics who paint her as a self-promoter whose words oversell her deeds.
“I can’t say she was arrogant. She’s just very confident. A very strong woman: physically, emotionally, mentally,” he said.
Nyad bills herself as the first person to make the journey from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage.
The World Open Water Swimming Association, one of the sport’s main international governing bodies, published a warning on its website last month that Nyad’s 2013 swim has not been ratified by the organization and is no longer recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records.
The organization pointed to a decade-long controversy within the open swimming community based on allegations Nyad made up her own rules and positioned herself as a record breaker in the absence of official ratification.
“As audiences dive into Netflix’s portrayal of Nyad’s journey, it’s essential to watch with discernment, keeping in mind the discrepancies surrounding the swim,” the organization said.
Co-director Jimmy Chin in an LA Times article last week said boundary-pushers like Nyad ― whom he described as an outspoken gay woman ― often have targets on their backs.
“And sometimes to make things happen, you have to bulldoze through all the barriers,” he was quoted as saying. “You have to be a force of nature. Diana is a force of nature.”
Sirkin said one of the things that struck him most about Nyad early on was her ability to express herself. It’s a skill that presaged her ensuing career as a sports journalist with credits from Fox Sports News, CNBC, ABC Sports and National Public Radio.
“You could tell she had a lot of journalism in her, and she does,” he said.
Sirkin, who will be 78 years old this month, said using his voice again to update his own footage has been a great experience. It’s a full circle kind of feeling for the journalist who got his start in West Hartford at NBC Channel 30 before making the move to a CBS affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., and the ABC station in Dallas on his way to Atlanta.
Now, he teaches broadcast journalism at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and takes on freelance jobs in radio and television news.
“My old news director in Dallas used to say, ‘To do this job, you have to have a fire in the belly,’ ” he recounted. “I got a fire in the belly. It never went out. And to this day I miss the deadline pressure. I miss the whole process of going out and reporting -- knocking on doors, holding people accountable. I miss it.”
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.