Opinion: Nyad’s Legit

Mike Lewis
by Mike Lewis 26

September 09th, 2013 News, Open Water

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.


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There is always a percentage of individuals who want to put doubt in the minds of people. They win when we give credence to their speculation of what has happened “did not happen.”. Sorry that you feel it is necessary to respond to this outlandish claim.

Lane Four

Am I surprised that the people who can’t stand anyone who succeeds are now out enforce trying to tear Diana Nyad’s success apart? Not at all. I agree with WHOKNOWS. Ignore these idiots. Before you know it they will be saying that Missy didn’t actually win 6 gold medals or that Katie actually didn’t swim under 4-minutes. Just ignore these dolts. Please.

I disagree Lane Four. Healthy skepticism is healthy. No, tearing her success apart would not be right, but based on the GPS data and what we know about her earlier attempts, why shouldn’t we ask for a full accounting of the time from the crew?

Any major athletic accomplishment now a days must face some level scrutiny.


Are we really questioning that a 64 yr old women who swam 100+miles cheated by having someone touch her while applying sunscreen. Or that she was a beneficiary of a strong current. Really?? I would have been impressed to hear a 64 yr old women jet ski’d from Cuba to Florida with all the current she can handle. No need to deify her, but stop all this nit picking over an accomplishment that no one has done before.


I am surprised at the number of people who are quick to cast doubt without trying to look at the evidence. Check this out for your oceanography lesson of the day:

It’s a NOAA’s (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) model of the Loop Current (a current that flows northward from Cuba toward the Florida Straits). It’s a run for today but last week would not likely have been so different. It shows currents running up to 3 m/s from Cuba to Florida. A person just floating at 1 m/s would go 3.6 km/hour or repeat 1:40 per 100m. It makes Nyad’s performance completely believable.

Lane Four

Thank you, COACH and CATHERINE. Paul, whatever.


You are being disrespectful.

Simon Says

Lance Armstrong inspired millions, also, and he was found out to be one of the biggest cheats in the history of sports. So the fact that Diana Nyad inspired hundreds or thousands or millions of people to swim is irrelevant. If there are knowledgeable onlookers who have reason to doubt her swim, then they should by all means make those doubts known. From what I have read, there are reasonable claims, such as a particularly high swimming speed, and a lack of food/drink stops for something like a 27-hour period. And these claims have been refuted in other quarters. But it’s far better to have the debate now, in the open, than to spread rumours or otherwise undermine her swim.… Read more »

Simon Says – I think that the panel will be good, because some of the claims are becoming a bit of ‘fish tales.’ Haven’t seen anybody make a reasonable claim of 27 hours without food, rather the number I’ve seen questioned is 7 hours. What was once 3mph for that stretch became then 4mph (a significant difference, though without a current either would be inexplicable). It will be good to get the responses on the record. Then I’m sure the next step will be folks accusing her crew of lying, at which point it becomes a stalemate. I’m as much of a skeptic as anyone, but I think it will be good to get the firm questions and answers on… Read more »

I dont know how many of you live in south florida, well i have for years this time, as a younger person, living in South Beach I met many Cubans, Hatians and others that floated over on rafts, inner tubes, etc, they stated they ran out of food, water, were bit by sharks, fish, jellyfish, etc. stayed at sea several days even weeks, so yes, do I believe it is possible to swim for hours puking no food, YES, if you have ever coached an open water distance swimmer, you know that they will survive, its a different mind set,.. JUST LIKE COACHING A POOL SWIMMER, Elbows up is what we are suppossed to teach, but that does not work… Read more »


Although it was not a sporting event, it reminds me of the birther conspiracy.


I find that delving into or constructing these theories occupies the same part of the brain as cryptic crosswords. People are still thinking about Jesus’s birth & we always learn something. For instances I was surprised to see some things in the birth certificate eg that race was a category to be filled in . ( we don’t have that on our forms ) . Then I saw that ‘African ‘ was submitted.??? Best was the Registrar whose name was something like Mr Uke L Lele . With Diana I have learnt about tides & wonder if this was so why are there fewer Cuban escapees? Also – hi there Elon Gonzales . Life is a box of chocolates …..perhaps… Read more »

About Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis is a freelance commercial, sport and lifestyle photographer based in San Diego.  Mike began making photos in the early 80’s and immersed himself in all aspects of the photographic arts.  Mike’s professional career in in photography began after 12 years working within the United States Olympic movement; he …

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