Diana Nyad's Epic Swim

Posted by Scott Zornig, 4 October 2013

As most marathon swimmers know, there was a call on September 10th to discuss the legitimacy of Diana Nyad’s Cuba to Florida swim. The marathon swimming community desired to know if she completed the entire swim and understand the set of rules she followed. I was not invited on the call so I have had to rely on the experts and their opinions about the swim. Fortunately, Evan Morrison who is an amazing person, incredible marathon swimmer, SBCSA board member, and one of the most intelligent people I know was included on the panel of experts.

Evan recently said:

While many questions about Diana's swim remain to be addressed, I have not yet seen any evidence to suggest that Diana did not do as she is claiming - swim from Cuba to Florida. However, because of the repeated physical contact with her crew in putting on her stinger suit, I consider it an 'assisted' swim - the third after Walter Poenisch and Susie Maroney.

In my opinion, there were others reasons why this swim could be considered ‘assisted’. However, even as an ‘assisted’ swim, this was an amazing feat of human perseverance and endurance and Diana should be complimented accordingly. My longest marathon swim was 10 hours and I was in so much pain, that I actually wanted a shark to take me out so I could save face in front of my friends (this is true). I cannot fathom swimming for 53 hours. It is beyond my comprehension as well as many other marathon swimmers. This is one of the reasons her swim came under so much scrutiny.

At the same time, Diana did not do herself any favors when she did not…

Furthermore, Diana has had past swims where she rested on the boat and returned to the water. What is the purpose of returning to the water and would she have labeled it a “stage swim” or claimed a world record if she had finished?

Since Diana had physical contact with her support crew, wore a full bodied stinger suit with gloves and face mask, utilized shark divers and jelly fish clearers, and followed a streamer on her recent swim, she would have been disqualified under standard SBCSA, CCSF, CS&PF, CSA, ACNEG and MIMS rules. Her swim “might” have been recognized by a few of these organizations as an “assisted swim” provided she declared it upfront. This is not to say that someone can’t come up with their own set of rules for their own body of water. One of the problems in marathon swimming is that our sport has differences between the various organizations. These inconsistencies enable others to do as they wish and then point to the variations between organizations. In my opinion, it is imperative for Marathon swimming organizations to come together and establish mutually agreed upon rules for the future health of our sport. It serves no useful purpose to have a sport made up of asterisks. This is another discussion on another day.

Marathon swimmers have come under a great deal of criticism because we have questioned Diana’s swim. Evan has received an incredible amount of hate mail and so have many others who just wanted some simple questions answered. I think in the day and age of Lance Armstrong, Mark McGuire, Rosie Ruiz, Danny Almonte, Marion Jones, Tonya Harding and Floyd Landis, we not only have a right, but an obligation to question a record….especially in a sport where the general public and media are ignorant and uneducated. We are called “haters” and “invidious” when all we wanted were the facts to approve or discredit her swim. I wonder how these same people would feel if we were making up and interpreting rules for a sport they were passionate about?

It is interesting to note that when Walter Poenisch became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida on July 13, 1978, he had to defend his swim by filing a lawsuit against Diana Nyad and others who called Poenisch a ‘cheat’ and a ‘fraud’. He won a small monetary sum in 1983 and letters of retractions from Ms. Nyad and the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The point is that Diana herself questioned and labeled Walter and his swim so what was so wrong with the marathon swimming community questioning Diana’s recent swim?

We should all applaud Diana for her amazing achievement which is “the third assisted swim across the Florida channel” and “the first assisted swim without the use of a shark cage”. It is absolutely incredible what she has done. At the same time, Diana has left the door open for a marathon swimmer to someday come along and be the first to swim “unassisted” from Cuba to Florida.

Below is an interesting interview of a marathon swimmer, Marcy MacDonald, who probably should be as well-known as Diana Nyad, but quietly goes about her business. Also included is information regarding Walter Poenisch’s swim.


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