This post has been approved by The Sport Of Open Water Swimming

Apparently that’s a thing. I found this out because Diana Nyad said that her swimsuit was approved by it.

So I looked into it, and yes, it exists and they have membership cards and secret passwords and all and I’m not invited.

Okay, no, not really.

Anyway it’s a facetious but relevant title because I’m of the (admittedly contested) opinion that Diana Nyad’s swim has been bad for the sport of marathon and Channel swimming. And maybe that’s a good thing. What? That it’s a bad thing is a good thing?

Let’s recap: Diana Nyad has long had a stated aim of wanting to swim from Cuba to Florida, a dream she first unsuccessfully attempted in the 70′s. She didn’t swim for 25 years then returned (publicly) two years ago to make her second unsuccessful attempt. In the interim highly-respected open water swimming legend Susie Maroney completed the swim but in a shark cage so it was deemed an assisted swim and while admirable itself, is not counted as a marathon swim.

After last year’s Cuba to Florida attempt, I’d stated on the blog that I was no longer interested as Diana Nyad had led us to believe she was following traditional rules when in fact she announced afterwards that she had been following stage rules, which allowed her to get on the boat. I’ve no problem with Stage rules. I just insist that the applicable rules are announced beforehand. And this year she returned again for another and fourth attempt.

And yet we can’t get away from Diana Nyad. I can’t get away from it for the simple fact that every time she does something, search engines direct some of those people here looking for her Tracker because I’ve written about her. And if I say nothing I become part of the issue. So yes, I’m part of this, and I feel I have to address it, because to do otherwise facilitates the circus to suit her. Every circus needs a clown. Diana Nyad maybe the clown, the ringmaster or the high-wire artist, depending on your point of view but in this I’m happy to be the amadáin, the fool , the old role of Puck and rogue.

Why is it that Diana Nyad attracts such attention?

There are a couple of reasons. She has a pretty aggressive wide publicity machine. She relentlessly delivers the laudable message that people should pursue their dreams. And just as importantly she is disingenuous about what she is actually doing, leading those people to believe she is doing one thing when in fact she had planned to do anther. People are sold a dream, they believe in the dream, they become invested in the idea, conflate it with the celebrity and buy emotionally into the whole experience. As Channel swimmers know, Channel attempts require the support of many people. This emotional investment allows people outside the sport to imagine they are part of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as what they are investing in is honest and explained to them, or otherwise they don’t understand the nature of what they are supporting.

Diana Nyad clearly touches and pushes off a support boat

When I speak with people outside swimming they seem to believe that the stated dream alone seems to confer an acceptance of any deviation or breaking of rules; an example was a discussion I read about the touching of the boat, breaking the cardinal rule of marathon swimming when one person said: “I understand that this is a cardinal rule of marathon swimming but It’s not as if it invalidates what she is doing, or the difficulty of the swim”. They couldn’t see that with clear evidence of rule-breaking, there is also suspicion of other rules being broken. Anyone reading carefully the start and end times, swim times and stated time on the boat will realise that about 10 hours were unaccounted for in the total, that Diana Nyad was on the boat. Even if that’s 10 minutes or 10 seconds, it’s still outside the rules of Channel swimming. And that’s not to mention the heat-drip device, the abuse of those swimmers who commented, and ever-changing time  of how long the swim took. As English & Catalina Channels swimmer Karen Throsby so accurately put it, “what Channel swimmer anywhere does not know to the exact second their Channel time“?

This is the crux of the Dian Nyad problem. People without sufficient knowledge, but with a surfeit of emotional investment, are unable and unwilling to see the wider picture.  I’ve had this discussion with friends and correspondents. Essentially they say, it’s best to celebrate Diana Nyad’s achievements and explain within that context or ignore her and deny her the one thing she seems to crave, publicity. But how does that help when someone does this again? Or if Diana Nyad does this again?

My experience of the worldwide swimming community is that it is overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and supportive.  I have made an extraordinary number of friends from it. That so many swimmers are upset or annoyed or made downright angry by Diana Nyad is a telling marker, not of jealousy nor insularity nor exclusivity or any of the accusations hurled by Diana’s Stormtroopers, her “Extreme Dream Team” (that’s the actual name she gives them), but of people who feel misrepresented by the efforts of one individual, who feel that one person is having a disproportionately negative effect on a sport they love.

And make no mistake. It’s not a one-off incident by Diana Nyad, but part of a career-long obsession with publicity to the detriment of swimming and the sacrifice of the truth of what we do.

I have said everyone should be supported in whatever type of swimming they do. Because that way we have swimmers such as Craig Dietz, Roz Hardiman, Philipe Croizon and more. People whose abilities and willingness to overcome obstacles profoundly humbles us.

I said above that maybe all these negatives could be a good thing. Because it’s a fact that every time someone is caught, and Diana Nyad was caught, it improves the education and understanding worldwide and that makes sport better. Like in cycling, where catching drug cheats is depressing and debilitating for the sport in the short-term, in the long-term it has helped.

We as a group have been slow to respond. The nature of our sport means we are all individualists to some lesser or greater extent. But that slow response is changing. The marathonswimmers.org forum is now a voice for our sport outside the control of any organisation. In a short time it’s gone to almost 500 interested individuals, including many luminaries of the sport. It has no agenda except to educate, help and foster community. No agreed manifesto except the support of so-called traditional Channel swimming. Just the voices of passionate interested people. People who can’t be stopped connecting or explaining.

Online media as a whole gives us an instant voice, as happened when the video of Diana Nyad touching the boat was released. Anyone who has been sucked into my Twitter feed can see how we connect, locally and globally, how an average guy talking shite in the middle of nowhere can connect with some the world’s great open water swimmers. But to stay silent when we have these tools is not the answer. We cannot change an uncaring media or public. We should however think we can provide the education. We can build a foundation stone of explanation. We can add the necessary minority opinion to the babble of those who don’t understand. This can only help us, if we connect and build our support and communication networks. We’re a small community, this means we each have a significant voice. We should exercise those voices. Maybe, just a slight maybe, the Diana Nyad swim will be the catalyst that changes some opinions, educates more people, and that moves more people to make clear what is that we do, and what it is that we don’t do.

These comments have been approved by The Sport Of Open Water Swimming. I am an open water swimmer. I wrote them, and I approve them.

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6 thoughts on “This post has been approved by The Sport Of Open Water Swimming”

  1. I wasn’t aware of this issue(though I had heard of this ladys failed Cuba-Florida attempt) I thunderously applaud that you are standing up and speaking(writing) about something you care about. So many people avoid standing up for things they believe in using various excuses(you’ll only give her more publicity)that its like a breath of fresh air to read this. The world would be a better place if more people had the balls. And for what its worth on the issue of rule breaking I totally agree:if they are breaking one rule what other rules are they breaking? If you are serious about what you do in this life, be it swimming or anything else, you do it properly. Thank you Donal.

    1. Wow, thanks very much Clare. If we don’t explaining ourselves to those outside our sport, then we are failing and worse we will allow the people who manipulate the truth to set the agenda. I have been criticised for not being positive about every swimmer regardless of what they do or how they do it. I really appreciate your comment!

  2. Bravo on an excellent post. I also approve this message. As a member of the sport of marathon swimming and the “media”, I strive to make plain the distinctions between the various kinds of open water swimming events in my stories, and sometimes that’s tricky. But we have to try, for the purity of the traditional sport of marathon swimming.

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