In the past week several reports, most originating from small numbers within a tight knit marathon community, questioned the veracity of Diana Nyad’s recent Cuba to Florida swim. The skeptics’ claims began to gain traction after reports of the discord within the marathon swimming community appeared in National Geographic, the USA Today and New York Times. Some have claimed she was aided in some way based upon the rate she swam for a period of time. Her navigator John Bartlett, who has an immense amount of experience in the gulf and boat builder in Key West, credits favorable currents with the increase in speed.
Nyad’s critics also assert that her swim is tarnished because she didn’t not adhere to English Channel rules – purportedly she was touched by her crew when they aided her in applying sunscreen and lubricants that prevent chaffing. OK, so? This wasn’t the English Channel. The English Channel is just short of 21 miles – Nyad swam over 5 times this distance. There is no reason why her swim should be tarnished based upon a lack of adherence to these rules.
I wasn’t there and I can’t report on exactly what transpired during every stroke of this swim. However, I was an observer during her second attempt in 2011 and I witnessed things that lead me to believe she did it. She was adamant in doing things right – briefing after briefing before this swim the instructions about feeding and touching were clear and everyone knew their role. She was stung three times by box jellyfish during this swim yet she remarkably continued swimming after each incident. After the third sting the pain was too much and the medical personnel insisted she be brought onto the boat for her own safety. But after a short while she regained her composure and recommitted herself to finishing what would have then been considered a ‘stage swim’. Her navigator John Bartlett repositioned the boat back to the exact coordinates and she resumed the swim. However, on this day well into the 40+ hour point, it was clear reaching Key West wasn’t going to be an option. From what I witnessed in 2011 Diana Nyad would swim to her death if left to her own devices – meaning once her mind is ‘locked in’ she doesn’t know how to quit. It took the advice of her most trusted crew members to convince her to stop on this swim.
So when I read reports she cheated, that her swim shouldn’t count or that there’s a lack of transparency which indicates a cover up, it’s unbelievable why people would say these things. From what I witnessed in 2011 neither Diana Nyad nor her trusted crew would engage in cheating or execute a cover up.
Based upon my experience combined with what I’ve read about this swim, and experts with whom I’ve spoken, I believe Diana Nyad did swim from Cuba to the shore of the Florida Keys. This is amazing. It’s not an assault on the other marathon swimmers who do amazing swims under varying conditions. It’s a different swim.
Swimming is great, it’s a sport I love and it’s super cool to see things like Anthony Ervin’s reemergence on the world stage, or an 8 year old swimming their first 25 fly, or a group of 90 year old men breaking a world record in a relay at the masters nationals. Diana Nyad’s swim has inspired untold numbers around the globe and if just one person woke up the next morning and said “I’m going to start swimming today” then it’s time to say “thanks Diana”.
Later this week Steven Munatones of Open Water Source will moderate a panel of experts to facilitate a question and answer session with Diana Nyad and her crew, I’ll be reporting back on the presentation later in the week.
See you in the water.