I wasn’t sure when I started this how long this series would be. Previous long series have run to five posts. This will take six. Given his achievement, I think it’s fair to say that Sylvain deserves a six-part series!
As I wrote in the previous post, almost immediately after Sylvain got sick Mike Oram started feeding him, with no discussion with crew. Between getting sick and Mike’s feeding the time lost was about five minutes.
Twenty minutes later was the next scheduled feed, at 16:45, and adhering to the plan wasn’t as important at this time, but Mike again fed Sylvain, this time with a watery porridge, water, and mouthwash to remove the vomit taste. Five minutes after this feed, Sylvain got sick again but reported feeling better afterwards. Less than ten minutes later again, just before 5 p.m. Mike fed Sylvain this time with a cheese spread on bread. We as crew were superfluous at this stage, and since this was Sylvain’s swim and his success the only important thing, it wasn’t about how we felt, so we bit our tongues. From Mike’s point of view about many things in the Channel with his 800 crossings, crew are mostly baggage, which will be not be a surprise to anyone who has read or heard his many “swimmers are only my third and slowest engine” comments. The 5 p.m. feed was lengthy, taking Sylle over two and a half minutes.
So why did Sylvain get sick? As I’ve also said previously, this happens usually because swimmers take in more carbs than they can process as they mostly are in liquid form and happens many people.
Channel swimming burns about 800 calories per hour. The human body, regardless of size, can take in about 280 calories per hour. Earlier during that morning “discussion“, Mike had ridiculed me for not having a “T-form“, or for not knowing the term. Not needing Mike’s approval I’d asked what he meant, and I had mentioned I’d read all his emails to the Channel Chat group over the years, a repository of which articles Niek Kloots hosts on the Netherlands Channel Challenge site. They are worth reading if you are interested in Channel swimming, and being here, you may be interested, as Mike knows more about the Channel than most people, Fred Mardle and Reg Brickell being the only other pilots with similar experience.
The T-form, is essentially a calorific input/output balance sheet (my explanation). Mike explained to me all about calories and liquids and blood and liver etc, not really accepting that I, or indeed any swimmer, might have some or any knowledge of these matters. Mike explained how he had brought the idea from his sales training in the US, in between his extensive sailing and piloting etc and plotting swim routes from California to the North Channel. Apparently.
Mike’s T-form is the written form of the mental calculation that experienced swimmers do subconsciously or even occasionally consciously. Written down or not, there is the same net result: calories-in do not equal calories-out. Eventually a swimmer goes from having a positive glycogen amount in the liver and muscles to a deficit. Part of training is to get adapted to the transition from glycogen burning to fat burning, also known as ketosis. Writing it down adds nothing except work, unless you are so poorly organised or inexperienced as a crew that your swimmer is feeding too little or too much.
Lisa and Zoe and I continued to discuss with each other and to talk to both Mikes. Mike Oram’s primary assertion was “this year’s Maxim is bad“. He said that this Channel season had seen a significant increase in the number of swimmers getting sick.
Maxim is the most used carbohydrate by Channel swimmers and that used by Freda Streeter to feed swimmers on their Dover Harbour training swims, so it became the default. I’ve used it, Lisa and Zoe used it and many more. Maxim is a 99% maltodextrin carbohydrate and both Evan and I’ve written previously about different aspects of feeding. Evan’s posts on maltodextrin product comparisons and osmolality are particularly useful in this discussion if you want to understand some of the varying factors.
In 2012, Maxim became increasingly more difficult to source until it disappeared. Freda and the beach crew and many others, including myself for MIMS2012, and Lisa, sourced anther product, called Vyomax Maxi. Sylle was using a different product as Maxi wasn’t available in Sweden, but his was still just a generic 99% maltodextrin. I’ve also used Sponsor Competition Sponsor Long Energy, Hammer Perpetuum, Go Energy and others.
During the immediate hour subsequent to Sylle getting sick, Mike Ball looked at Sylle’s feed stuff and then asked why we hadn’t informed him that Sylle wasn’t using Maxim. Lisa and I tried to explain that 99% maltodextrin was 99% maltodextrin, regardless of label, we even still call it Maxim. I don’t think Mike Ball, whom I greatly like and respect, really believed us!
During this time Mike Oram spoke much about noted American Channel Swimmer, friend of his and one of the Channel greats, Marcy MacDonald, who only recently had completed another two-way swim, her third, with Mike, her regular pilot. Mike said she had been sick most of the way, and he’d reverted to the older English Channel feeds of porridge, tea and bread to keep her going.
I am of the opinion, as I’ve written about other swimming subjects, that simple explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones: Did Diana Nyad catch a magic unknown current and after over 30 hours swimming somehow start swimming faster than world-record pace? Or did she make it all up for money and fame, following a lifetime pattern of attention-seeking? Is all this year’s maltodextrin, regardless of vendor, bad and causing illness, or are more swimmers overfeeding?
It is certainly the case that something had happened that I haven’t yet told you. When mixing the feeds the night before the swim, Sylle had mixed the feeds to quadruple strength, so that when diluted with our warm water supply that was used each feed, the concentration was reduced to double. There was … discussion … of this, shall we say. Lest you think this was a crazy ad-hoc last-minute decision by Sylvain, it wasn’t. Sylvain was already a Channel swimmer. He is a very experienced swimmer, a very experienced open water swimmer, and he was following the feeding regime he always used, including his first Channel swim and which he had used for his long training swims.
During our discussion I mentioned how last year during his English Channel solo, Alan Clack had wanted a double strength feed, and how without telling him, I’d changed it to single strength. In that case I was completely in charge of looking after Alan, and with more experience than Alan, felt sufficiently certain to so do. But I never told Alan, because I knew he needed to believe that I was doing exactly what he wanted.
It’s also the case that I’ve seen a document circulating on email which outlines double-concentrate mixing of feeds. But this document states that this is intended to be mixed to achieve single concentration.
Without actual details of the swimmers affected I can’t categorically say, but in Sylvain’s case, we know for a fact that he was using double-concentrate and that was the cause of his illness, rather than some manufacturing defect.
I use Sylvain to explore further this whole problem and the challenges of gauging individual feed requirements, and situations that can arise, even for an experienced swimmer and crew, and it’s not meant to reflect poorly on Sylvain.
We all make decisions and the Channel finds us all out one way or another.
Keeping the communications open and being receptive to Mike over the next couple of hours, we continued to watch Sylle closely. The tension for us his friends and the concern for him, was high. Over the course of a couple of hours, between four p.m. and 6 p.m. Sylle’s stroke rate dropped from 28, to 26, to 24. Not a cause for panic but needing to be watched.
Well-known Californian swimmer Jamie Patrick earlier in the year mentioned in the blog comments that he liked reading articles about the history of open water swimming. Apart from what already appears in various books it’s hard to find such stories. But I shortly thereafter carried the story of Tom Blower and the first North Channel swim. (Anytime I think of doing a history post, I imagine Jamie asking me).
At the 2013 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, some of the guests were connected through a historical chain: The Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, Wayne Soutter, and Dolorando Pember.
Wayne Soutter was the first person to complete the Mull of Kintyre route from Scotland to Ireland in 2012, his account covered here. North Channel swims are ratified by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. And Dolorando Pember is the daughter of Mercedes Gleitze, who first unsuccessfully attempted the Mull of Kintyre route (though she was successful on so many other marathon swims).
Before she attempted the North Channel, Mercedes was an English Channel swimmer, (still the qualifying requirement for a North Channel swim to this day). In light of the Diana Nyad Controversy, the story of Mercedes Gleitze’s English Channel swim, apart from the actual swims, is very interesting for some timely reasons less obvious than others:
False swim claims have been around for a long time in our sport
Other honourable swimmers are negatively affected by false swim claims
The development of Official Observation (“ratification”) in swimming
Mercedes Gleitze’s second “Vindication” English Channel swim was widely used for advertising by watch company Rolex, and the story of the Vindication Swim came to me from an website devoted to watches, of all places. With that link to the original in place, below is the story itself, leaving out the later advertising aspect of the article which describes how Mercedes swim was used to make Rolex the well-known watch company it is today.
Note that the terms we still use of Channel Swimmer, Channel Season and Channel Aspirant were all in use in the 1920s despite that less than a dozen swimmers had completed the Channel by the end of that decade.
One investigative source of this story says that the Channel Swimming Association “refused to recognize her swim as legitimate“. The CSA was only founded the same year with their handbook stating: “Since March 1927, English Channel Swims have been organised and regulated by the [CSA] and all Swims officially observed by its designated Officials/Observers are faithfully recorded“.
The CSA database for 1927 shows three swims and Mercedes Gleitze is recognised as a Channel Swimmer.
Marilyn Morgan, the above blog’s author, comprehensively answers this question when I asked her:
“[T]he CSA asked Gleitze to sign an affidavit verifying she completed the swim unaided. Gleitze refused on principle and was quoted as saying, “the best thing to restore the prestige of British women Channel swimmers in the eyes of the world would be for me to make another Channel swim,” and thus she embarked upon what became known as the Vindication Swim.
Because that swim was undertaken past Channel swimming season and she swam so efficiently for so long in the bitterly cold water under such extreme conditions, the CSA consented that she must have successfully completed the Oct 7 swim and then included it in its records retrospectively. This can be verified through a plethora of British and American newspapers as well as at the archives“.
October 7, 1927. It was a cold October morning, and Miss Mercedes Gleitze (1900-1981), a London typist and part-time professional swimmer from Brighton, was about to make her eighth attempt at swimming the English Channel.
Miss Gleitze began her journey at 2:55 a.m., as she entered the murky waters at Gris Nez. The Channel was uninviting, cold and thick with fog. Visibility at times dropped to less than five yards, so a fishing boat from Folkestone led her way—frequently sounding its horn to help avoid the heavy shipping traffic. Her trainer, G.H. Allan, fed her grapes and honey from the boat to keep up her strength, and strong tea and cocoa to help fight the cold.
After overcoming hours of pain and exhaustion—and being nearly run down by a steamer—“her feet touched the chalk rocks between South Foreland and St. Margaret’s Bay”. And at 6:10 p.m., she became just the twelfth swimmer to accomplish the feat, the third woman, and the first Englishwoman. This historic swim lasted fifteen hours and fifteen minutes, and was under bitterly cold conditions, with water temperatures never rising above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It is worth mentioning that attempts at swimming the Channel were usually made earlier in the year (around August) when water temperatures are more accommodating. Why Mercedes elected to swim this late in the year is still uncertain.
Shortly after emerging from the water, Mercedes collapsed from exhaustion into the arms of her trainer, Allan, and her pilot, Harry Shart, Jr. She remained unconscious for nearly two hours, as the small fishing boat ferried her back to the Fish Market at Folkestone, where she was “cheered loudly by a big crowd”. Being in no condition to celebrate, she was quickly taken by taxi to her lodging for the night.
Unfortunately, Gleitze never really got to enjoy her success. Just a few days later, a series of events unfolded that put the legitimacy of her swim into question: On October 11, Dr. Dorothy Cochrane Logan (using her professional name, Mona McLennan), swam the Channel in thirteen hours and ten minutes. With this swim, Logan set a new record time for women, when she “walked a few steps up Folkestone beach”, at 8:50 a.m.
This was the second report of a woman swimming the Channel in less than a week, and suspicions quickly arose as to the legitimacy of her claim. Under heavy scrutiny, Logan soon recanted her story and confessed that her swim was a hoax. With Logan’s confession, Mercedes’ swim also came under suspicion. In a way, she was considered guilty by association and was said to be very upset by the accusations, and, unlike Logan, said, “All right, I’ll do it again”. Thus, the stage was set, and Gleitze was scheduled to swim the Channel again, on October 21, in what was touted as the “Vindication Swim”.
Just a year prior (on July 29, 1926), Rolex patented the first waterproof wristwatch: the Rolex Oyster. When Hans Wilsdorf (the cofounder and Managing Director of Rolex) got word of the vindication swim, he saw this as a golden opportunity to promote his new creation. Wilsdorf wasted no time, and on October 14, dispatched a letter to Miss Gleitze by way of the S. T. Garland advertising service. By this letter, he formally agreed to provide her with a gift wristlet watch to be worn during the upcoming swim. In exchange, Gleitze would provide a written testimonial on the performance of the watch after the swim.
This “Vindication Swim” began at 4:21 a.m., when Mercedes again entered the waters at Cap Gris Nez. However, unlike her previous swim, the fog on this day was minimal and she had a full entourage accompanying her—numerous chase boats were filled with journalists, friends and well-wishers.
At this point, I would like to say that Mercedes Gleitze successfully completed the swim, and the rest, as they say, is history. I would like to say that, but unfortunately it is not the case, and “history” as retold by some over the years is incorrect.
According to the London Times, the conditions during this swim were brutal, with water temperatures ranging from 53 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit—a far cry from the near-60 degree temperatures she endured on her previous swim, just two weeks prior.
Shortly after entering the water, she experienced incredible pain and numbness from the icy water. To help keep her awake, the crowd sang songs, accompanied by musicians playing the banjo and guitar. Unfortunately, this was of little help, and, at 2:25 p.m., it became evident that she would not complete the swim. The bitterly cold conditions caused her to slip in and out of a coma-like state. At 2:45 p.m., she was reluctantly hoisted into the boat, some seven miles short of her goal, and her vindication swim would not be.
Mercedes was surely disappointed by her failure, but the overwhelming reaction from the crowd must have been of some consolation. The reporters, doctors and experts on hand were amazed at her endurance and ability to withstand the treacherous cold for some ten hours and twenty-four minutes. Thus, after witnessing her determination, few if any could doubt the legitimacy of her previous swim—it was, indeed, a victory in defeat.
As she sat in the boat, one such journalist made an incredible discovery and reported it in the London Times as follows: “Hanging round her neck by a riband on this swim, Miss Gleitze carried a small gold watch, which was found this evening to have kept good time throughout.”
It may sound a bit more romantic to say that Mercedes wore a Rolex on her wrist as she swam across the English Channel, but this, unfortunately, was not the case. While she did “carry” a Rolex for more than ten hours during her vindication swim, it was not on her wrist, nor was it during the “successful” fifteen-hour swim she is remembered for. This is simply a story that has had some “specifics” misquoted over the years. With that being said, on October 25, 1927, Mercedes Gleitze forwarded a letter to Rolex, which summed it up very well, and read as follows: “You will like to hear that the Rolex Oyster watch I carried on my Channel swim proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion even though it was subjected to complete immersion for hours in sea water at a temp of not more than 58 and often as low as 51. This is to say nothing about the sustained buffeting it must have received. Not even the quick change to the high temp of the boat cabin when I was lifted from the water seemed to affect the even tenour of its movement. The newspaper man was astonished and I, of course, am delighted with it…”
No precept is more sacred to marathon swimmers than the forbidding of a deliberate touch between swimmer and anything else; boats, people or equipment other than feed supplies. That is the way we disqualify ourselves or how we signify that a swim is over. Until you have been there, until it has been you or until you have seen a swimmer agonise for long minutes in the water, knowing there is no hope of continuing, but knowing they or you have to reach out and touch the boat, you can’t understand this.
It’s a really, really, really big deal for us.
Everything about swimming reduces to those moments. It’s difficult to explain how it feels to try to push a swimmer beyond any possibility of continuing a swim, beyond what you want to push them, so they will know afterwards they did everything. It’s different from pushing yourself. You almost hate yourself for pushing them. So the swimmer will have no doubts that when they reached out to touch the boat, it was the right and final act. When you dismiss or wilfully and repeatedly ignore these essential facts, disregard this moment of truth and subsequently lie about it, you guarantee the animosity of the marathon swimming community.
Let me be repeat what I said earlier in the series:
I do not really care what the general public thinks about Diana Nyad. The world is full of crooks, cheats and charlatans who had public support, from Lance Armstrong to Silvio Berlusconi. There is nothing new in this. Diana Nyad needs public worship and adulation. I’m happy with just having friends.
Maybe Diana Nyad will somehow square this circle and be proven to be a paragon of virtue, despite all the items of concern outlined below. Though I do not think this will happen, nor do I believe it’s even possible. But if it does happen, it will be great for swimming and we will have served the purpose of keeping marathon swimming honest.
No-one should forget that without the forum and the questions of a few, the public would have fawned all over Diana Nyad with blind adulation, everything would have been accepted. Because Diana Nyad is nottruthful and all her claims to be so are empty.
If you hate me because I don’t share your hero-worship of Diana Nyad, I don’t care. If you have bought into the hype, (possibly literally), I don’t care. If you hate me because you think I am a “hater“, I don’t care (and you need to understand what irony means. Hint: listening to Alanis Morrisette won’t tell you).
I care about Rob Bohane stepping into the English Channel for a third time, knowing what he had gone through twice already, no fanfare, no merchandise, no bullshit. Just courage and what Channel Swimmer Sarah Thomas so memorably called on the forum, integrity. I care about all the others, stepping off a shore in the unknown, sharing common values in how they swim. In their heads only fear and excitement, a goal, a dream. To swim across. Not a movie, not adulation, not chat shows. Not deception.
Courage and integrity. A fitting epithet for marathon swimmers.
Sylvain Estadieu publicly seeking prior discussed rules for his English Channel butterfly crossing. Lisa Cummins making sure no-one could touch her when she stood up on a dark empty beach before wading back in to swim back to England. Trent Grimsey picking up litter on Dover beach. Wendy Trehiou. Jackie Cobell. Paraic Casey. Susan Taylor. Kevin Murphy. Alison Streeter. Steve Redmond. More. So many more. A roll call of courage and integrity.
It’s not that I am bothered about Diana Nyad’s media presence. It should be great for our sport. I certainly loved the coverage of Jackie Cobell, Sylvain Estadieu, Lisa, Cummins, Stephen Redmond. But I do care when the media coverage is so overwhelmingly based on what I believe to be Diana Nyad’s misrepresentation. I believe that coverage should be accurate and represent our shared values and portray the reality of our swimming world. When Diana Nyad’s actions sully past, present and future swims and swimmers, she essentially attacks friends and people I respect. So it becomes personal.
I care about my sport. My friends. My interpretation of right. My sense of trying to live up to the people I respect. I need to be able to look my friends in the eye knowing I have been true both to them and to myself, (even if they are not making the same judgement). Nothing anyone can say can take away what is for me a fundamental precept, that I require of myself. Therefore Diana Nyad has tested me, had forced me to this series and maybe that’s why this was such emotive stream-of-consciousness writing for me. The Diana Nyad controversy has sullied things I care about and I intend to reclaim those values for myself and my friends.
During the height of the controversy and discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, the forum went offline a couple of times over the weekend of the seventh and eight of September. Until now we have said publicly that was due to traffic. In fact it was due to repeated Denial of Service (“cyber”) attacks. We do not know the origin.
When they are trying to shut you up, you know you are surely doing something right.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win“. – Gandhi
What it all boils down to
The items below are based not just on the panel, but include previous events and events which have since come to light. The list below is why the onus is on Diana Nyad to prove that despite her protestations of being “ethical” that she is trustworthy and that the swim has any credibility. In this case the swim and the swimmer cannot be separated.
Despite her protestations of honesty, the case against Diana Nyad’s integrity is very strong and includes the following very extensive list. References for almost everything in this list can be found on the marathonswimmers.org discussion thread. Her comment on Facebook alone contains multiple problems.
Rules & Observation
Despite repeated calls from marathon swimmers (including myself), Diana Nyad never published any rules before any Cuba to Florida swim.
Her methods during her 2011 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims include getting onto the support boats. What would she have claimed had she been successful, given her assertions that she’s never been assisted?
Her claim that she couldn’t remember touching the boat in 2012.
Conflicted reports by team members of what touches were carried out. (There are actual photos exist of her being held).
Her conflicting claims that she never touched anything in the recent 2013 swim, yet later admitting she had been touched.
Her repeated continuing claims in the press of some undefined world record.
Her claims of not knowing about Observing requirements (to me).
Her previous use of conflicted Observers who were simultaneously promoters, journalists and a sponsor.
He claim that her Observer’s belong to a non-existent organisation (Open Water Swimming Association).
Her use of unknown Observers with no experience and no recognised training, reputation or affiliation. Her own team members ironically say a qualified team is essential.
No publication of any standards or rules according to which any Observer would be judging.
The casual retrospective dismissal of the well-documented by her own team, 7 1/2 hours without feeds, as a misquote. (“That was a mistake”), not corrected or ever mentioned by the team until raised by the forum.
Her post-panel deliberate TV statement that the team had provided all the requested documentation, (they still haven’t). She said this was because she doesn’t know how to upload documents.
Diana Nyad team member’s posts on the forum are contradictory in establishing what rules they might have been following. Much of their talk of rules seems to have been derived from the actual post-swim forum discussion and to be conflated with a non-swimmer’s understanding of English Channel rules and other rules and how, where and why these are used.
Use of an iPhone as a stopwatch. (That says a lot about the standard of rules and Observation. Strictly forbidden in almost any sport).
The events surrounding Walter Poenishes first assisted Cuba to Florida swim, before and after, contain multiple problems for her claimed integrity, including actually libellous personal attacks, subversion of sponsors and media for her own ends and ultimately the ruining of a man’s life. Mr Poenisch had to take legal action before Diana Nyad withdrew her attacks but he was never able to repair the damage she had already done.
Her dismissal of Suzie Maroney’s Cuba to Florida swim also as assisted (which it was) but never acknowledging that she herself was assisted.
Any assertions that the community now accepts that she swam the distance. I myself don’t say this. Without reputable experienced Observers (more than two are required for 48+ hours) and original Observer Logs that can be proven to be created on the relevant dates. There is no way to know. In fact I don’t seen now how this can ever be proven. The requirement for stringency has been caused by Diana Nyad having heard all questions in public after the swim was over before she ever set out to clarify.
Her repeated calling on some unknown higher authority called “the sport of open water swimming” or “the auspices of the sport” for the media. (Please refer to the vote above).
Her claim of no contact to her from the marathon community.
Her ignoring an offer to help set up an Observing Organisation specifically for her and the Florida Strait.
Her implicit denial that such an offer was made to made.
The apparent denial of what her own jellyfish advisor Dr. Yanigahara says was essential safety treatment, to Chloe MacCardel for her Cuba to Florida attempt.
Her untrue assertion that “my own peer group, instead of coming to me and asking me questions went to the media“. (In fact the media contacted us, Diana Nyad is the one who courts the media. I answered one media request early on and ignored the few subsequent requests).
The lack of real explanation about the apparent contradiction in her own video evidence of the navigator versus the public claims.
Her disrespect for other swimmers.
Her hypocritical treatment of Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, with public claims of well-wishing, contradicted by post-swim statements hoping they would fail.
A Team Nyad source told of her later instruction to her team “do not the feed the trolls” specifically about the forum, whom she also called peers when it suited. somewhat at odds with this statement: “They want to know how the facts came down so they can understand it. They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honor the accurate information.“
Confusion over apparent discrepancy between publicly available Florida current satellite data and Diana Nyad’s post-swim Florida Current data, for the same days.
Her appeal to the Court of Public Approval, (in science, one of the most conclusive demonstrations of fraud).
Her utter public disrespect for volunteers, calling them “traitors”.
Diana Nyad, with a lifelong history of braggadocio and deceit about swims, including exiting the water, and with a tenuous relationship to the concept of rules, with no Independent Observers, claims to have done an unassisted swim , which includes a previously uncharted current that allowed her more than double her swim speed in open water after 30 hours.
Diana Nyad followed a lifelong pattern of deceit about swimming for self-aggrandisement and ego.
Ceteribus paribus. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the best.
When you are sitting in the changing room of your pool or at the beach or somewhere and someone says to you “did you hear about that woman who swam from Cuba to Florida …“. Take a breath. Don’t shrug it off. Don’t worry about seeming like a crank. Instead say “well, actually, let me explain about that to you…”
I struggled with how I could wrap this up. What could I say that could make any difference?
Then again, I realised I didn’t have to make a difference. I only had to do what I have done. Write and let sunlight disinfect Diana Nyad. But something else happened as I wrote, as I got further into this series. I started this series with a sense of grim resignation, frustration and ennui. But as I wrote, I felt better. I felt better and I felt more able to be completely honest about what I think of this debacle. As I wrote, we all took back our sport.
Further, I realised I could make a personal decision, a decision just for myself.
I am a channel swimmer. The title is one of my proudest possessions. I can use it because of the trust and integrity of the worldwide marathon swimming community (any Channel applies), and I choose to use it because of the respect I have for friends and swimmers far greater than I who hold that title.
You know that one decision I can make about Diana Nyad? You’ll laugh. It’s not all this writing. It’s not the forum, the panel, the conversations, emails, messages or even this series.
The strongest personal statement that I can make, here and now, is that I would not let Diana Nyad sign my marathon swimmers autograph book. I do not believe Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida.
Diana Nyad does not appear to have the probity or integrity that I require of her.
Thanks for sticking with this and thanks for all the supportive messages.
For whatever it’s worth, I feel cleaner now. See you on the Copper Coast, in Sandycove or in Dover.
I’m really sorry that this is taking so long, I have better things to do myself! I’ve found it difficult to distil this subject down to essentials. I’ve written long series before, and there’s no way I’m giving Diana Nyad more blog parts than more important subjects like Understanding Cold Adaptation in Humans or Trent Grimsey’s English Channel record. So you are getting long posts instead.
An important moment came for me during the entire controversy. I’d asked for advice or even new questions from various swim friends for the review panel. One respondent, she knows who she is, gave some excellent media advice: Stick to the message, don’t get bogged down in technicalities that the public doesn’t understand or care about. I planned to do so. And then, on the panel, I realised that while it was excellent advice, it wasn’t the right advice for me just then.
I actually don’t really care if the American public paints an American flag on Diana Nyad’s face and makes her Queen. I only care about the swimming. (If I’d had to endure the media questioning, this may have been different but as a swim blogger, especially one outside the shadow Diana Nyad casts over the US media, I can both be dismissed and still retain freedom).
The words assisted or unassisted don’t matter to the general public, but they do matter … to me, to my friends, to the swimmers who came before Diana Nyad, to the swimmers who will come afterwards and they may even matter to Diana Nyad.
When you ask yourself who has a vested interest here, ask yourself which of us, myself or Diana Nyad, has more reasons for deception. (None of all this writing gains me one cent toward funding any of the swims I can’t afford to do). If you are a Diana Nyad supporter, maybe you can ponder that while you are waiting for your credit card to process.
I speak for myself and no-one else. I came to believe that the level of deception was deliberate and purposeful, some unwittingly so by crew chosen with little understanding of the context and apparently no guiding rules.
The extent of that contravention is unknown. Experienced marathon swimmers and crew, who know what we are looking at, who can make judgements based on knowing when something looks wrong, will keep going back to this brief video when Diana Nyad is supposed to be going at her fastest pace due to a current assist.
The public through Diana Nyad’s website and Daily News of Open Water Swimming and repeated public speaking and writing were led to believe that the swims would be attempted unsupported, especially the 2011 and first 2012 swim.
In the absence of published rules, I can only infer that Diana Nyad contravened rules generally adhered to around the world for over a century. These rules are called English Channel rules and dictate swimming not just in the English Channel but any swim where aren’t specific local rules. They are guidelines. There are exceptions to these rules (Cook, Manhattan) BUT these exceptions are codified and in place BEFOREHAND, and not used to claim records and aren’t directly compared to unassisted swims.
The media and the Diana Nyad team have since the swim repeatedly focused on these words, “English Channel Rules“, and used them in a deceptive manner. “Throw out that stuffy rule book“, said one of Diana Nyad’s team on the forum, showing a profound lack of understanding of the debate. No-one ever said that Diana Nyad had to use these rules. However in the absence of any clarifying guidelines, for which no-one but Diana Nyad herself is responsible, these rules are a universal constant of marathon swimming, like water. Diana Nyad only has herself to blame because she squandered or deliberately misplaced any opportunity to clarify before and after every attempt.
If you want to play games with experts don’t be surprised when they don’t buy your line of bullshit.
I already mentioned that I was contacted, along with other swimmers, to “respectfully” contribute to a discussion of a device under consideration for the second 2012 swim. We’ve seen Diana Nyad use the word pre-emptively respectfully repeatedly with the media and with swimmers, and the media bite this hook. I’m not the most perceptive person you’ll meet in person but damn it if even I didn’t see it for what it was; media manipulation by an expert, to an uncomprehending, uncritical audience, and damn it if it doesn’t remind me of how when Lance Armstrong was questioned he always used cancer as the response to divert.
Prior to September 2013 the most discussed marathonswimmers.org forum discussion was the 2012 discussion of Diana Nyad’s second attempt of that year. Following the announcement of her “success” on her fifth attempt in early September this year, the forum lit up with discussion of that swim, of which thread I initially stayed clear. It has became the most discussed topic in forum history. What that tells you is that the majority of marathon swimmers, best qualified to understand and support or question, were engaged.
As I wrote previously those threads are fascinating reading and essential if you want the context and the thoughts of a wide selection of actual marathon swimmers, and also of some Diana Nyad crew and supporters. There were extraordinary revelatory moments, amongst which was swimmer Andrew Malinak’s actually scouring of the data from Diana Nyad’s website, that led to the questions about Diana Nyad’s speed increase after thirty hours. It led to the subsequent engagement by Diana Nyad’s webmaster, Chris. (Had Diana Nyad ensured her Observers were of the same calibre of transparency as Chris, this issue could have been over by now). And Sarah Thomas’ hugely popular articulation of how many feel, and also Niek Kloot’s detective work on Walter Poenisch.
It’s a lot isn’t it? The forum, the blogs, the newspaper and online articles, the media interviews, this seemingly interminable series…How can you really come to a definitive conclusion?
How can I get this monkey off my back? A soupçon of Socratic Method, cut by Occam’s Razor, leavened by gut feeling. Questions and answers. (Or lack of answers in this case).
Throughout this controversy there has been one recurring issue for actual marathon swimmers, rather than the adoring public, an issue that’s been growing: The question of integrity.
I’ll put it another way: There are serious questions over Diana Nyad’s probity and trustworthiness.
“But she’s a 64-year-old woman who did an astonishing swim you couldn’t do! She’s an amazing inspiration”.
Yes, I’ve already heard that. Playing to the gallery means nothing. Had Diana Nyad taken the most simple of steps, we could have been all celebrating her. But most of the people best qualified to understand Diana Nyad and her claimed success certainly aren’t so doing. You need to grasp that fact. The fact that most marathon swimmer’s don’t seem to believe Diana Nyad is a very telling weathervane.
Diana Nyad’s actions in the 1970′s and 1990′s were a demonstration of her questionable probity when she attacked both Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney in the media over their respective Cuba to Florida assisted swims. She attempted to subvert Walter Poenisches attempt and unleashed a vicious attack on him afterwards, only retracted on legal threats. For over 30 years she falsely claimed to be the first woman to swim Around Manhattan.
Yet she herself is now being defensive and even duplicitous about similar issues. Her 2010 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims incontrovertibly showed that she was still not above misleading everyone prior to, during and after swims. It is safe to say that those swims alienated many members of the marathon swimming community. She held onto and got into support boats. She herself was the cause of the alienation, not this bad man from Ireland. She took the trust people initially placed in her as a swimmer, and she destroyed it.
She’s not the first swimmer to make dubious claims, and won’t be last but this is the swim where I draw my own line.
Here is the swim and the swimmer where I choose to say: No. I don’t believe you. Clearly, so anyone who chooses can hear.
Diana Nyad demonstrated a complete lack of interest in rules.
Rules. A small word, a big concept, but one that is easy to grasp. Rules are essential as guidelines for all human activity, and specific in the sporting realm. Clear published rules allows us the ability to judge and evaluate, to demonstrate fair play and to aid in the evaluation of effort, to present a level playing surface for all competitors. To separate the merely excellent from the truly historic or exceptional.
Rules aren’t a burden. They also protect the average honest athlete giving their all to the effort, dividing them from the cheats and the self-promoters. One of the features of rules is that they need to be published. Why do I have to explain that rules need to be known to everyone BEFOREHAND? I’m frustrated that, in light of this shambles, I, an adult, am trying to explaining what rules are for and why, to you, other adults, all of whom already know this.
Nor did Diana Nyad care about what actual marathon swimmer thought, despite her later protestations, despite the faux-respect of the panel. Our concerns previously had no effect on her, and she had only engaged when it became clear that we were being listened to. We weren’t disgruntled because we were feeling left out, or that we wanted to be in control, as the Extreme Dreamers would assert.
A brief perusal of the marathon swimmers forum will demonstrate a lively, energetic, engaged community, celebrating and supporting swims and swimmers around the world.
Instead we had genuine questions, that could so easily have been assuaged with information and some planning changes. They knew we were here, so they had to have known the questions and concerns. Diana Nyad also didn’t choose to get the marathon swimmers on her side, and you have to wonder why, since media and public attention is clearly at the heart of what she desires. Could it be that actual experienced swimming Observers would be so much more difficult to bamboozle?
Diana Nyad has only reacted in 2013 because our debate got outside the swimming community, first published by Simon Griffiths and H2Open magazine on Septemeber the 2nd, then followed by a National Geographic web story and then Suzanne Sataline for the New York Times, which then very quickly became the story of the week. We were tarnishing the image, and far more importantly I suspect, the earning potential, and casting a shadow on her ego, so clearly seen in her claims of a new world record.
Her probity and integrity was amply demonstrated (and probably irreparably to the swimming community) to be at odds with the values of the marathon swimming community when she attacked volunteers. This is no small matter for people who place their dreams and lives into the safekeeping of those selfsame volunteers. The About page on Loneswimmer.com written well over three and a half years ago expressly thanks those who have helped me in my minor achievements. Every swimmer I know understands this. Without exception.
People have pointed out her attack on what she perceived as her competitors, Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, both of whom have acted in an entirely more honourable and open fashion regarding the same swim. I do think it’s possible to put that aside, even though a lack of willingness to help others in the community achieve swims is also anathema to marathon swimmers. The attack on the volunteers is very different and a repulsive attitude to the worldwide cadre of swimmers.
The post-panel email discussion went on for over a week. Other additions to the panel included Skip Storch, who had attempted the swim in the 90′s, Captain Timothy Johnson, Author of The History of Marathon Swimming, Sid Cassidy, a Team USA coach, and I’ve heard Lynne Cox was listening in (allegedly). Members of the panel were part of the post-swim discussion. A few days in, it seemed to me, (very subjective), that there may be a move to have some kind of a vote by the IMSHOF members, who would have included from the panel, I think, Steve Munatones, Skip Storch and Penny Dean.
Concerned something like a “star-chamber” might arise to decree the swim unassisted, Evan and I decided to give marathonswimmers.org forum members their chance to cast their decision. For 48 hours we ran a simple unannounced vote on the forum on this simple question:
Was Diana Nyad’s swim assisted or unassisted?
Unlike the WOWSA awards this wasn’t a public vote. We allowed no new membership applications during the time to avoid vote brigading, (the biggest problem with the WOWSA awards), no comments were allowed in the thread and there was no prior notification of its announcement, and no canvassing. Just a simple vote. Diana Nyad repeatedly spoke about the consensus of the marathon swimming community after her swim. Here was a way to see what that consensus was.
After 48 hours the vote was
82 votes forAssisted
2 votes forUnassisted
Actual marathon swimmers had spoken. Overwhelmingly and unambiguously.
The consensus Diana Nyad which looked for has happened, but that consensus of marathon swimmers said her swim is Assisted. Which makes her the Third Assisted Cuba to Florida swimmer after Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney.
Two weeks after this vote, Diana Nyad, who reportedly said “I don’t want the record if they’re going to call it assisted because that’s the equivalent of fins or shark cage” is still doing the media rounds.
I’m almost there, I promise, just one more to go. Stay with me and let’s all see this series through to the end.
As I said previously, I endured three hours of the panel on the telephone before bailing out about thirty minutes before the end. You are surely thinking to yourself, only three hours compared to this unending series? Yes, that’s how I feel also, actually. :-)
Swim promoter, panel organiser, Moderator and former Observer and Sponsor of Diana Nyad, Steve Munatones said there would be people from Hawaii to Germany on the call, but mine was the only voice from outside the USA, and as such I felt uncomfortable, a token voice of the stuffy English Channel community. The bad European from Hollywood movies, my Irish brogue an unusual substitute for the more common clipped tones of a German or English film baddie, (apologies to my English and German friends)! Rampant paranoia, I have to admit.
Because this wasn’t the world of swimming I know, the world of shite-talk about swimming, and craic* with friends at the Guillamene, in Sandycove or Dover, going for a Sandycove lap or three. Instead this was a world of famous swimmers, lawyers, media and manipulation.
Other facts contributed to my paranoia. In the lead-up to the call, Steve Munatones emailed that he was looking forward to my contributions on the subject of the current. This set off more alarm bells for me. I write here about tides and currents for swimmers, but mostly tides because I think it’s a woefully under-represented subject that’s really important for safety, and if I can learn something and pass it on that’s helpful.
Ocean currents are specific to their region and as such beyond my limited knowledge. I’m not even a sailor. The only ocean navigation map I have studied in any great detail is the English Channel map. I quickly disabused Steve of any notion that I claim expertise. I can understand the global and macro regional details but that’s about it and that’s only because I like reading about that stuff.
It was enough that I had to suffer the essential charade of the panel. Can we agree that I did so you didn’t have to?
I’ll stick mostly to my own input, with an occasional foray into other’s contributions as I saw them. Should any of the other panel members wish to add any comments here, please email them to me guys, and I’ll add them here (publicly identified Panel Members 1 to 10, number 11 Mike Lewis has his own paid outlet, he was a conflict-of-interest previous Nyad Observer, he can take a flying jump) .
The call started with Moderator and Diana Nyad supporter and swim promoter Steve Munatones introducing everyone very briefly, extended introductions would have been interminable (like this subject) and intimidating (for me).
Diana Nyad made a lengthy opening statement. The word respectfully was used by Diana Nyad again, apparently without any irony. It included a statement that she has never cheated in her life. As with almost everyone she said, I felt her statements were not for the panel or the subject, but with a firm eye to the media. Yes, I had preconceptions. I am not at all embarrassed by this.
Ding, Ding. Round 1
The significant first portion of the call contained John Bartlett outlining experience with his confirmation of the existence of the northerly current. Then we went through a round of Q&A with each member of the panel. John Bartlett answered some, Diana Nyad or Bonnie Stoll answered some others. Then next round would move onto the next subject.
You can jump the technical parts by going straight from the bold arrow below, to the next bold arrow further down.
I can swim in the winter in Ireland because as every Irish school child knows, the 50º+ North Latitudes of Ireland and Great Britain is kept clear of ice during the winter months by the North Atlantic Drift current. This is part of the Global Thermohaline Circulation, also known as the Global Conveyor Belt. The North Atlantic Drift current is fed by the warm Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream comprises two main components, the important-for-our-discussion Florida Current and the Antilles Current which flows north and east of Cuba to where both join off the Florida coast. The Florida Current flows out of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean between Cuba and the Florida Keys, a long stretch of interconnected islands and atolls. Deep breath.
The Florida current is fed by the warm waters and weather of the western Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico and must flow in a north-easterly direction to exit into the Atlantic, since of course there is land is the way otherwise. This gap between Florida and Cuba is known as the Florida Strait. A Strait, like the Dover or Cook Straits, is a narrow stretch of water that connects two larger bodies of water and as such is usually typified by strong currents, the so-called finger-over-a-garden-hose effect.
To swim from Havana to Florida, Diana Nyad had to swim across this current to the north, when it would be trying to push her North-east, away from land. To see the effects on the path of a swimmer swimming across a normally three knot tidal current, look at the first section of almost any English Channel swimming map of which there are many out there. (Ignore Trent’s world record map as atypical). Aand relax.
——>> End of jump.
Part of the problem of analysing the swim is that Diana Nyad apparently swam almost due north across the usual flow of current or had it flowing directly behind her pushing her toward land. And she did so at a greater than world record pace. Bored yet? You will be.
John Bartlett, Team Nyad Navigator essentially said that the team had the advice of an oceanographer who used a process the oceanographer called altimetry. This is a phrase for measurement of the ocean surface height, presumably from satellite. I have been unable to determine the origin or wide-spread use of this phrase in meteorology but I do know satellite altimetry is used to measure tidal movement. Measuring the ocean height would lead to the identification of upwellings and downwellings. These are the flows of cold water (upwellings) and warm (downwellings water of water from and to the ocean surface respectively. One will supposedly come with an anti-clockwise rotation, the other with a clockwise rotation, I can’t remember which is which. I do know that other things such as prevailing wind also affects the surface current direction of either.
I’d like to point here out that I, a self-identified disbeliever of the Diana Nyad story and not-at-all-an-oceanographer-or-navigator, can convey this more clearly than any of the vague hand-waving of Team Nyad outside the panel, and apparently better than Diana Nyad, who was seemingly content to not understand any of this, as she herself said. I don’t really even want to go into the incredulous story of what they claimed about last year’s swim but briefly the pilot and handler knew the 2012 swim wasn’t possible but they went out for 40 hours of swimming anyway. Seriously.
Correct identification of the current state of the ocean would allow Team Nyad to catch an anti-clockwise gyre (rotational current) across the prevailing north-easterly current and essentially catch a free ride to Florida, pushed by currents. It sounds good to a layman. I’m a layman, so I can’t really interrogate it. All this took quite a while and I found John Bartlett credible, like I found Diana Nyad’s webmaster Chris, (who unfortunately had nothing to do with the swim). I know, you are shocked, you thought I was going to argue with everything. If so you misunderstand me.
John Bartlett says that he confirmed the presence or absence of this current over many trips out in the Florida Straits over at least two years, taking about 100 drift measurements. He spoke about using special equipment, but I’ve seen ordinary boats with regular GPS identify currents or lack thereof, so that means nothing one way or t’other, it’s just curious.
I wanted to use my first round of questions in a particular area related to this so I started asking about the measurements. I wanted to get to a quantification of the area of measurement, and measurement deficiency, and a feel for the GIS grid of the prediction. No idea what I’m talking about? That’s ok, I doubt any of the other panel members did either and please remember I really am not even slightly expert in these areas. it might be worthwhile taking a jump over the following section, as I can tell you now it led nowhere.
Here’s an analogy: Weather forecasting in the upper-latitude eastern United States is excellent and very detailed and specific in time compared to the western Irish Atlantic seaboard where it’s less accurate. Do you know part of the reason for this? The prevailing winds are the same for both in the same latitudes. But one of the factors that improves the US forecasting is the large number of sensors to the west. You can have a large number of sensors…because it’s land. West of Ireland is the Atlantic, and measurement is difficult because … deep water. Satellites are increasingly used but local sensors are still essential. The further apart the sensors the quicker minor variations between them turn in unexpected localised weather changes. Weather is a chaotic unpredictable system (technically a dynamic non-linear system), and this is exactly what the butterfly flapping its wings analogy is intended to convey. The GIS grid is the Geographical Information System, or more simply the size of the measurement grid.
I was interested in trying to understand measurement time and distance intervals to see how granular they could get in identifying the magic current. To identify such a current, I think you would need a very small, very granular GIS measurement grid. Small in GIS terms is still intervals of miles.
This line went nowhere, when John Barlett told us there was no Oceanographer to answer these details, so I stopped and I’m finally explaining here what I was trying to understand. If I had any chance of identifying the feasibility of the theory, I needed to understand how it is identified and measured.
I know Forrest Nelson, President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Association had a conversation separately a few days before with John Barlett, but I don’t know any more than that.
Oh, you want another more apt analogy, that speaks specifically to the subject of marathon swimming?
——>> End of jump
The English Channel waters, (yawn, yes here we go again, Diana Nyad supporters) west of Cap Gris Nez are the most swam marathon waters in the world and the highest marine traffic lanes in the world. The charts are therefore pretty complete and the waters relatively well understood. Yet, as many channel swimmers and pilots will tell you should you ask, (as I have ’cause I’m a Channel Junkie), unexpected currents, weather shifts and changes of timing regularly occur. Fast swimmers are slow, slow swimmer are fast. Tide show up 30 or more minutes early, or late. Localised micro-depressions appear (one did during Sylvain Estadieu’s swim) not visible on weather forecasts or radar. And this happens in an area with all this traffic and recording on both sides, and two actual marine traffic control centres exist. Get my point? Unpredictable, in a smaller area, even with fairly close measurements. So you can extrapolate from there why I was asking: I can guess cold water temperatures all I like based on experience, but I have to calibrate that against an actual thermometer.
The Scientific Method considers physical testing (i.e. measurement) as important as the actual hypothesis. Intervals and measurement accuracy are important for understanding, and hence for prediction.
Now there have been many public discussions of the biggest questions over Diana Nyad; the sudden and sustained speed increase, the direction, the lack of feeding. I’m not going to go through them one by one here but I will address them later. Once again, I point you back to the forum discussion which has all the relevant information. There will be no surprise data announcements in these posts. Instead I’m trying to do what I said to Diana Nyad I was going to try in my second round questions to her, to synthesize what was already available or discussed.
Round 2. Seconds out. Let’s keep those punches above the belt.
Penny Dean, a global legend in open water swimming, Steve Munatones’ and former US open water coach, former English Channel world record-holder and the woman who literally wrote the book on open water swimming, (sigh) had been at best sycophantic on the first round. She apologised to Diana Nyad for the questions she was being asked, obviously by the rest of us. But Penny had no right to apologise for us. Prior to any real discussion she congratulated Diana Nyad. I don’t like writing that and she is entitled to say anything she pleases given her record especially compared to me, but I really don’t know why she was on the panel, if this was “a review panel”.
Possibly sensing the whitewash direction of the call, some of the panel shifted to a more direct path for the “second round”. Since I don’t want to speak for any of the panel I can say the questions varied and Barbara Held, someone who claims large admiration amongst marathon swimmers went directly to the point of the seven and half hours with no feeds. Dave Barra questioned which record Diana Nyad was actually claiming. Ron Collins asked about the apparent freshness of Diana Nyad immediately post-swim. Richard Clifford questioned on the discrepancy between videos and what was reported, such as apparent stroke rate, and recorded comments from the navigator. Evan Morrison asked specific questions about whether she exit the water or touched the boat and then about training. The answers were no (she didn’t exit), she couldn’t remember touching the boat, her speed is 50m per minute in training, i.e. two minutes per 100m but she can hold this “forever” and the unsolicited nonsense about peeing in the pool, again done for the media.
I’ll have to let those guys give their own public impression should they wish to so do but they all sounded great to me. I didn’t feel alone.
The call had already heard plenty of faux drawing-room courtesy, straight from Oscar Wilde with lots of effusiveness on both sides. I was somewhat sucked in, I’m now embarrassed to say. But this was an American call after all, I was the interloper, replete with Irish scepticism.
When the second round of questioning came to me, I waffled too long in asking my question. I hadn’t prepared it other than having it on a vague list, as I had no idea which way the call would develop. So I winged it, which led to a too-long introduction from me.
I was far too long-winded. But my essential question did make it through clearly: Why, in a swim with global visibility and of a commercial nature, therefore unlike any other swim, didn’t Diana Nyad set out to maximise transparency and use fully independent observers?
We as humans are attuned to communication signals. I sensed, in the ether of telephonic cyberspace, where the words in a telephone network switch meet, that Diana Nyad had just crossed me off her Christmas Card list.
The response was frosty and disingenuous, at best. As with earlier, I felt the answer really wasn’t going for me, but for the media, but further that I had made her uncomfortable. In the response, (no “I’m glad you asked that question” for me) Diana Nyad said that she had been out of marathon swimming for 30 years and was unaware of the rules, and wasn’t aware that she needed to personally know the observers.
At this point Penny Dean intervened and started congratulating Diana Nyad again.
So I had to stop her.
Me, a nobody, had to stop one of the most famous open water swimmers of the latter half of the twentieth-century from speaking. You couldn’t hear it in my voice but I think there was a quaver. It was in a way one of the most scary moments of my swimming life.
I disabused Diana Nyad of her response. I said that the rules of marathon swimming go back 138 years and they were in place before she stopped and are well-known, and that I wasn’t postulating a mass conspiracy theory, nor did I believe in one. Essentially she was putting words in my mouth, (the old straw-man argument tactic, say your opponent said something they didn’t so you can knock it down).
She responded again this time saying that no-one in the marathon swimming community reached out to her. This response was utter nonsense.
If you’ve read the forum thread you will know that I said that a person (Ned Denison) had emailed Penny Palfrey, Diana Nyad and Steve Munatones 18 months previously with three options on how to handle a future swim, including an offer to actually set up an zero-cost official Florida Straits Swimming Association and allow Penny and Diana Nyad substantial input to setting out Florida Strait rules. Thus giving Diana Nyad exactly what she and her supporters have been saying, that only she or the first person to do it, which at that time could only have been Penny.
You’ll also know from the forum that she said she never received it, despite that Penny Palfrey and Steve Munatones had, and that Steve Munatones was actually sitting beside her at that point. Steve neglected to mention this for the camera or anyone else. Diana Nyad said she couldn’t respond to an anonymous critic, which is fair, so I pointed out that the person (Ned) is an Honour Administrator in the International Marathon Swim Hall of Fame, which at least means a lot of people know him. When I said I would give the name to Steve Munatones privately, he never mentioned that he already knew whom it was.
Why would she turn this down? I can postulate that any prior disclosure of any rules at all was still too limiting to what she had planned.
On the forum Angel Yanigahara of Team Nyad later said that “perhaps only Diana, Chloe and Penny should make the rules for this body of water“. She is not the only supporter of Diana Nyad to make a similar claim. Indeed Diana Nyad herself back in the 1970′s claimed that the first swimmer got to make the rules, though of course Diana Nyad herself ruined the life of the first person to swim those waters, Walter Poenisch.
Would you like that bread buttered on both sides, Diana? And how about a slice of this special cake-that-you-can-have-and-eat also?
I also mentioned that Team Nyad had of course directly Tweeted me the previous year soliciting my opinion and input, as mentioned previously.
As was the tone of the entire call, when it suited Diana Nyad, her team were responsible whether either things went right or things went wrong, to suit herself and she, a journalist, doesn’t know how to use Twitter or Facebook.
I finished with the specific point that she had made two demonstrably incorrect claims regardless of what she had just claimed.
With that I was done. My foreboding of a whitewash and setup didn’t waver. I think that the reason Diana Nyad didn’t use the panel more widely afterwards was that she assumed we would be more easily wooed or impressed or roll over. Many important questions were never answered or even addressed, especially the other Observation questions.
Diana Nyad never did answer that question I’d asked.
I got two hours sleep and left for Dover, hoping to decompress from this nonsense and to crew for Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel butterfly. English Channel two-way legend Lisa Cummins was sitting beside me on the plane, and had to listen to it all, poor her. (If you haven’t visited Dover beach with Lisa, you really don’t understand how she is viewed).
I’ve finished writing. I’m not even sure how to describe the next part except it’s long. Long even by these standards. There will be a final part after that, just in time for the Global Conference in Cork. I didn’t originally plan it that way, I found no way to comprehensively cover the subject and we know that DNOWS won’t do it. Far too many words and too much time on this for me.
*I refuse to clarify this post with a definition of the indefinable yet quintessential Irish word craic. The easiest way to find is to come to the Global Conference in Cork. Lots will be had. For giggles, you could watch Steve Munatones and I dance warily around each other. We should teach him The Siege of Ennis … in swim togs. (Someone should teach me first).
I mentioned in my last post that this subject was outstanding.
A “review panel” was recently held to consider Diana Nyad’s claimed Cuba to Florida to swim. (On Tuesday 10th September, 2013)
This panel was unprecedented in marathon swimming. I had nothing to do with the genesis thereof nor arranging or my invitation to the panel.
I consider the holding of such a review panel, regardless of the motivation of the organisers, regardless of any future decision or announcement, an actual success for the marathon swimming community. Ordinary swimmers spoke out, and had to be listened to. Consequently I am inordinately proud of the marathonswimmers.org forum and all its members whatever their opinion.
The next morning, a few brief hours after the lengthy call, I left on a flight to the UK and Dover to crew for an English Channel swim. Then a second trip back to Dover after we got weathered-out on the first trip. So for the rest of the week , shrouded as I was in the Channel Bubble, having the craic with Channel swimmers and friends or sitting on Paraic’s Bench in Varne, I had no time to write about the events leading to the panel, the panel itself or the subsequent story.
The time and distance spent with swimmers from around the world in the home of long distance swimming, including crewing for Sylvain Estadieu’s astonishing English Channel butterfly swim, gave me a breathing space sadly lacking in the previous week. Co-founder Evan Morrison and I were having to spend long hours moderating the discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, (for about five days it was taking me eight hours night, finishing at 1 or 2 a.m.) and Evan had to handle all the media requests, I being safely in the despicable land of Old Europe.
Following is my entirely personal perspective. It is not intended to be a comprehensive debate or exploration of the issue but instead to outline the leadup to the panel, and my current thoughts following the panel.
My opinions are informed by my own swimming and crewing experience, a little observing and quite a bit of swim writing by now. And also by discussions with other swimmers and friends from around the world.
While I have written some posts on the forum thread on this subject, a careful reading of the discussion will see it was some time I joined the debate. I’ll explain that below.
The discussion that stirred the press finally, is extensive. It is an order of magnitude greater than most discussions on the forum and will take hours if not days to read. It is technical, passionate, occasionally adversarial or personal, and highly recommended.
Finally, I want to explain in my opening that I’ve chosen to write here for three specific reasons:
My blog allows me the latitude of length. I can explore issues as I see fit without a word constraint.
Diana Nyad doesn’t look to marathon swimmers. She looks to an uncomprehending general public. LoneSwimmer.com reaches a more general audience than the forum, but it is still a specific audience.
As forum co-founder, I actually try to separate the functions of Administrator and Moderator from my personal opinions. The behind-the-scenes moderation during the height of the controversy was considerable and I tried to be balanced. But on LoneSwimmer.com, I can explore and outline my own thoughts unconstrained by the role, even it is only to myself and Evan that this distinction is important.
Diana Nyad was a long distance swimmer in the 1970′s. Her swims included Around Manhattan and Lake Ontario. She was also unsuccessful in three attempts in the English Channel. In 1978 she attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida in a shark-cage and wasn’t successful. She retired in 1979 and spent a career as a successful journalist and author and latterly a motivational speaker. None other than Jim ‘Doc’ Counsilman, a legendary coach in swimming and the man most associated with the scientific study of the sport, famously said of Diana Nyad: “a very mediocre swimmer with a very good publicist”. I’m a mediocre swimmer, though I usually use the word ‘average’, so I don’t take that as an insult necessarily.
I was mostly unfamiliar with her except for her Bahamas to Florida distance-setting swim in 1979. My immersion, excuse the pun, into Channel and marathon swimming culture and history has been gradual. Like many Channel swimmers, in my early open water swimming days I knew little of the shared history, and few of the great names of our sport, though Diana Nyad was certainly not one of those, except maybe in her head or that of her supporters. There was also a rumour I’d heard that her Manhattan Island swim wasn’t entirely kosher, and we’ll return to this subject later.
Past the age of 60, Diana Nyad returned to distance swimming and an unsuccessful attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida in 2011, two attempts in 2012, and her most recent swim in 2013.
A search of my site will illustrate the change in my opinions. I went from being very interested and a mild fan, through disillusionment and disinterest, to an active contrary stance, before ultimately saying that I was done with any further comment. My opinions didn’t matter, I still don’t think they matter outside the swim community which is all I’m interested in. I am just a swim blogger and hype is always better than truth.
When I first posted about Diana Nyad out of interest, I had reached the dizzy heights of maybe 30 people a day reading the blog. By the time I’d become more antagonistic, I was reaching maybe 500 people a day average. That number hardly changes the world but I didn’t care about the world, the people read loneswimmer are the ones I care about and have written for, not the Diana Nyad fans, not for the public. But I really did mean I was increasingly disinterested and antipathetic. In the end I wanted to leave Diana Nyad to her own devices.
I want you to be clear that I am not veiling my opinions, not sucking you in with a link-bait title to take advantage of a story for site hits, nor do I care about increasing traffic outside my target area of open water swimmers. I’ve been vociferous in my opinions on the subject now for some time.
I don’t buy the hype. I don’t buy the empty exhortations. I don’t buy the story and I literally don’t buy any of the merchandise. My life is full of swimmers I’ve met whom I admire, who feats astonish and inspire me. I’m supportive of these people, so for me to develop such a strong adversarial opinion is in itself unusual.
And you know what? This my blog. You come here. You don’t like my opinion, that’s fine. But my opinion is free. I don’t charge you for it. So in that way, it’s worth exactly what you pay for it.
But if you come here with some stupid empty threat that I couldn’t do what Diana Nyad did, nor swim what she swam? That’s true but sod off because Diana Nyad couldn’t do what I did. I and my friends don’t take money from anyone to swim, we don’t twist the truth about swims, and as a consequence we can walk into any group of marathon swimmers in the world with our heads held high. If you are new here, looking to argue with me, you better be prepared to step into my world. My opinion shouldn’t matter to you but if you come here for it, it is a valid experienced opinion. Vacuous insults and treats (treats would be nice!) threats mean less than nothing to me and the mere fact of them only colours my opinion even more, because such behaviour is utterly at odds with almost everything I’ve experienced about the sport, which is usually open, welcoming, friendly, supportive and collaborative.
Right up front I want you to know my opinions and you might as well have them raw.
I had four main objections that had developed to Diana Nyad’s swims:
Deliberate misleading of the public and supporters by not publishing any rules or guidelines before any of the swims.
In the absence of published rules, seeming disregard of established and rules. Diana Nyad’s team’s use of the phrase English Channel Rules is deceptive to the general public because they never explain that English Channel rules are used worldwide.
Obfuscation of actual events during swims. Briefly mentioned here, much more detail can be found on the forum.
Online attacks of experienced marathon swimmers. This refers to the invitation by Diana Nyad of myself and others to respectfully take part in an online discussion of a proposed heat device. Those swimmers who took the bait were respectful, yet were treated with utter disrespect. I’ve noted Diana Nyad’s repeated masterful use of the word “respectfully” to imply that we are the one who lack it.
All four opinions were to later inform my reaction to the 2013 swim and the review panel so I will very briefly explain the context.
In the attempts of 2012, on both occasions Diana Nyad exited the water onto a boat. Prior to either swim I myself had never seen any mention that getting on the boat would be allowed.
The rules were never clarified, but it was mentioned by swim promoter Steve Munatones, AFTER the exit, that the swim would change to stage swim rules. Governing Rules for the swim were never actually explained before or after any of her swims, even as I write this over two weeks after the panel. Any claimed achievement without guiding rules is meaningless. It is akin to setting the world’s record for standing on one leg, but without rules which specify actually only using one leg … and instead using two legs.
The two other recent Cuba to Florida swimmers, Penny Palfrey and Chloe MacCardel, had both very clearly and transparently discussed their plans and the rules they would use before their respective swims. Penny even initiated a discussion about the use of stinger suits before her swim.
During the 2012 second attempt, the fourth overall it became clear from her own video by her own team that Diana Nyad held onto the boat. Along with this was the exiting of the water onto the boat.
In Part 2 I’ll explore the context of the panel some more and the events and questions before the panel.
In Part Three, I’ll discuss the panel, mostly my own input and interaction and in the final Part 4 where the post-swim and panel events have led me.
For transparency for visitors, below are links to three previous articles I’d written in 2012 on the subject of Diana Nyad.
Two Golden Rules. I’ve said that you can follow whatever swim rules you like, and that there are only two golden rules you need to follow. Publish the rules beforehand, and have a trusted reputable independent observer. Curiously, once again in the 2013 swim, Diana Nyad followed neither.
Comments are disabled for this post. If you really can’t wait until this series closes to insult me, the comments on About page is my preferred location. However unless you can add intelligence or relevant experience to the discussion, don’t expect your comment to see the light of day.
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.
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.
During the recent Diana Nyad swimming circus, and some discussions around the place and online, I went for a swim. And we know what happens out there, don’t we? Yeah, stupid ideas.
On the marathonswimmers forum there was an excellent suggestion that we (an unaligned but traditional-rules-following group of marathon swimmers) agree some guidelines for media reporting of marathon swims. These would mainly detail what the basic criteria of a marathon swim are and which guidelines a swim is following, (for example whether English Channel, English Channel-derived like Cook Strait or MIMS or non- English Channel and how assistance, wetsuits, stage swims etc should be reported). And all that’s fine and all agreed.
But I thought about the expression “if you are explaining you are losing”. The media never cares about complexity, about the specifics of a particular pursuit. In swimming nothing crystallizes this fact more than the Diana Nyad affair. Complicated messages are lost, nuance is invisible, subtlety means nothing. So the idea that came to me while swimming was a simple Golden Rules of Open Water/Marathon Swimming. Yeah, I’m still not good with names.
We need some way to unify all these various types of swims, marathon swims under traditional rules, wetsuit and other assisted swims, stage swims, adventures swims etc. I think it is the confusion between these different types that causes the practitioners to be both misunderstood and angry, often at each other (this includes me, see my opening line above).
What is the minimum information that could or should be conveyed about a swim?
While swimming I came up with Three Golden Rules. I didn’t write them down when I got home that night so when I went back the next day to write, I couldn’t remember the three, only two, and I took that as a good design indicator.
The scientist and author Isaac Asimov was once asked what the maximum amount of information you could impart to a later generation about the world if you only had one short sentence to do it. So I asked myself: What is the least amount of information required to explain any type marathon swim, whether English Channel rules at one end, or a wetsuited relay stage swim with an elephant and Mongolian* swimmers only named Bataar at the other end?
How about another mention of Isaac Asimov: “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.“
I propose that only that Two Golden Rules are required:
The swimmer/organisation must fully disclose** all the rules and criteria of the swim beforehand.
If the swim is be recognised somehow, then the swim must have trusted Independent Observation for verification that the swim meets these stated rules. (And the participants must be fully cognizant of all the rules).
Rule One is of course a bit of a kludge, because it allows for further sub-rules. But if the swimmer is under this geas***, then we all can appreciate and support every swim for what is (or isn’t). If the swimmer follows this rule, then the media at least stand some chance of conveying an accurate framework. When I wrote last year that I had no further interest in Diana Nyad, that was because she essentially cheated her supporters and followers by misleading them about what her swim was.
Rule Two is just as vital. As I’ve found myself writing a few times in the last week, independent observation and verification is at the heart of marathon swimming. Many swims do not have Independent Observers because they are outside the auspices of any organisation or framework.
Let’s say you want to do a new swim around South Georgia Island. Since there is no South Georgia swim Association, whom you need for Verification is a registered swimming club member “in good standing” as the phrase used to go. Verification protects all swimmers from false swim claims. Verification is literally the most important protection we have, so people can’t claim to swim the North Channel, I was out on a training swim and I just decided to keep going****.
However the observer must be Independent. For most of us this isn’t a concern, we are low-rent, no-one has any particular interest in us. But if you are doing a high-profile swim for charity or just self-publicity like Diana Nyad, then your Observer can’t be involved in promoting, sponsoring or otherwise being part of the team. Can you know the swimmer? Of course. Practically speaking there aren’t enough marathon swimmers and observers in the world that everyone must be unknown to each other. Independent Observation ensures we all can celebrate honestly our own AND others swims, secure in at least some kind of impartiality. You can tell all your friends you swam the North Channel but without the ratification of an Independent observer you are humming in a hurricane.
When I showed up on the Dover slip, it was astonishing and humbling that my Official Observer should turn out to be one of the world’s greatest ever swimmers, the King of the Channel, Kevin Murphy. Kevin is byword for both integrity in Observation, and for doing what he can for a swim to succeed, while staying within the rules. He will advise crews, berate pilots, dictate to swimmers. All perfectly legal. My Channel swim would not have completed as the boat could not have gotten close enough. So Kevin swam in and saw me stand up on dry land. (And then made me get back in and swim back to the boat before I’d even begun to comprehend what happened. due to the danger of the situation).
These two rules are a bit like the old school-work rule:
Say what you are going to do, then do it, then show that you did it.
Nothing Great is Easy: That should be a guideline as well as an assertion.
* This blog still hasn’t any readers from Mongolia. Mongoliaaaa!
** Publish, disseminate, circulate, explain.
*** Old Irish term for a magically-imposed inviolate prohibition or commitment. I’d wave a dead chicken over my head, hop on one leg, and cast a spell if I thought it’d stop people misleading the public about swimming.
**** This has actually happened, a claim to have swum the North Channel with no Observation because the swimmer claimed they on a training swim and just kept going. The Irish media never once questioned the claim.
I’m writing this because Diana Nyad asked me on Twitter to comment on her blog, after I’d previously commented on Twitter regarding the unveiling of the Heat Drip device being considered for her Cuba to Florida swim. (To be clear, other than that, I have had no contact with Diana Nyad and don’t know her).
So you need to watch this video first to understand the context.
When Diana called for respectful comments on her blog, in fact significant vitriol was aimed at the actual distance swimmers commenting about this device, by people who could not in one single case state that they were themselves distance swimmers. And it was based on that lopsided bias of blindly following someone rather than having an open debate by actual swimmers, that I decided to keep my response here, not wishing to add further to the circus over there.
If you want a one-line synopsis, I think it’s nonsense.
I also think the only people qualified to understand the context of the debate are other marathon swimmers and those involved in our sport. This probably applies to all sport of course. If you wish to see this as elitist, so be it, however, let me say there is nothing standing in your way of becoming qualified yourself, as all it requires is time and commitment.
I am an average Channel swimmer, nowhere near Diana’s capabilities with no desire to swim for 40+ hours. But I swim in and write mostly about cold water and Channel swimming, as you are all aware. But I have put in the time and the commitment which I believe gives me the ability and the right to comment. I sometimes feel like I’ve paid my dues to get to stand on the stage wings and see the greats from the perspective of an insider rather than just the audience. I can hold up my head in their presence but I never delude myself I am one of them.
I believe strongly in the 137 year old principles of Channel swimming but I accept and also welcome the place of some improvements to opens up swimming to others and I have written previously in support of wetsuits to allow people to pursue dreams (though in retrospect I realise I was arguing a point that Scott Zornig hadn’t been making).
What I dislike (and the point that Scott Zornig and others have made, and that I agree with) is the blurring of boundaries by the media and some other folk to equate assisted swimming with “traditional” marathon or Channel swimming. I dislike the traditional term as it carries other disputed connotations such as conservative, bureaucratic or exclusive. As swimmers we have a responsibility to be clear & honest in what we do, as non-Channel and marathon swimmers strive to understand our world.
Announcing to the world that you are doing a stage swim rather than a Channel swim, only after you have gotten on the boat, is an example of this. I wrote last year that I lost interest in Diana Nyad’s swims as I believed this had happened. I may have been wrong, it may have been clear to others that Diana’s last swim was a stage swim, with which I have no problem, but if I was confused about what she was attempting, then likely so were others. This blog also is not intended to be purist but to reflect my interests and I am be interested in some stage swims such as Dan Martin’s (still hoping it’ll happen next year) Atlantic swim, because Dan is transparent about what he is planning. It is the confusion I dislike and mistrust, especially when people are disingenuous about their methods and goals.
Having set out my stall, I’ll address some of the points raised by Diana Nyad and her crew, but my primary contention is; hypothermia will NOT always occur when swimming in temps lower than body temps, contrary to statements by Diana supporters.
Hypothermia is offset by
Swimming, which generates heat (thermogenesis)
Fuel intake (food)
Hypothermia is delayed in cold water by acclimatisation training. Cold can be relative and acclimatisation training is the process of increasing cold exposure ability and duration by increasing brown fat in the body, lowering of stress hormones and heart rate and learning to stay efficient at lower temperatures. The acclimatisation training process is the swimming Lisa Cummins and Kevin Murphy and myself and all Sandycove and Channel swimmers put in in the depths of winter, by swimming in water temperatures of five to six degrees Celsius (38 to 40F) or whatever cold water temperatures are available. It is painful and dreary and numbing and yet utterly necessary.
We train so we can swim in cold water. Water that’s at most 18C in the English Channel (that’s unusually warm for the Channel). Water temperatures in the mid or high 20s C (80sF) are not “cold”. If they were then indoor pools would be dangerous and it beggars my believe that this assertion can be made. Open water swimmers often have problems with dehydration in water temperatures in the mid 20s as Ciarán and I did in Manhattan.
“But Diana will be swimming longer from Cuba to Florida” it’s say. Well King of the Channel Kevin Murphy spent 54 hours in the English Channel at an average of 16C. Lisa Cummins spent 35 hours in water under 17C. Lisa trains up to 12 hour sessions here in Ireland in temps of 11 to 15C.
It’s the training, it’s all in the training. Preparation, preparation, preparation.
If you are going to be cold at whatever your relative temperature is, then you train to offset hypothermia at that temperature. Of course there’s no denying ten degrees Celsius is cold and hypothermia will always result given enough time. At twenty degrees Celsius though Cold is certainly more of a relative connotation since to many of us it is very warm.
Traditional rules specify a textile costume, hat and goggles. Nothing that aids heat retention.
On the practical side of this device, the idea of applying heat externally is, as others have pointed out and I have written about previously, actually dangerous to cold individuals, due to peripheral vaso-dilation, which will actually make someone colder as heat applied externally (except in a precise and controlled manner), will cause colder blood to flow to the core. This kind of puts the question to Diana’s assertion that her crew are “very smart”. They may well be but they obviously know little about cold if they think this is smart.
But that is a diversion. I assert that the expected temperature is not cold. To say temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius for a marathon swimmer is relatively cold is contrary to the experiences of the global community of marathon swimmers. Thermogenesis from swimming with constant energy supplied from food and liquid, (hot if necessary) is sufficient for swimmers of similar duration in far far colder water for over a hundred years. Also, contrary to what’s stated on the blog, there is no such thing as momentary hypothermia. Therefore I question Diana’s “very smart” people assertion.
Apart from the issue of the practicality of the device is the more fundamental problem of actually using it. This device, contrary to Diana’s anecdote says about Channel swimmers in the 70s having buckets of cold water dumped over their head, is outside accepted practices in marathon swimming. No discussion should be required from experienced marathon swimmers to understand this. This should be understood as a core aspect of what we do. Let me ask this question; if Diana was even considering the use of this device, anathema to Channel swimmers the world over, what other changes to normal practice could be compromised during her swim?
Not one Channel or marathon swimming association in the world would recognise Diana’s device as acceptable in a Channel swim under English Channel rules (or any variations thereof such as Manhattan, Cook etc) and senior and highly respected swimmers from these organisations have already spoken on this issue.
I wish Diana Nyad the best, I think pursuing a dream in swimming regardless of what it is is laudable and I’d encourage everyone to so do.
It’s okay to make up one’s own rules for new swims, just so long the public isn’t misled into thinking that those rules equate to the generally accepted rules by Channel and marathon swimmers worldwide.
Well, now that it’s over, I just don’t know. After being moved to the boat for medical reasons last night, I kind of lost some interest. If it wasn’t for people wanting to know I would have left it alone.
For how long is medical intervention and the swimmer being on the boat allowed? Not at all under Channel rules. I do know of one case where an accident on board had the swimmer removed from the water. It could have been restarted, since it had nothing to do with the swimmer, but wasn’t and was deemed a No-Swim. Our rules are pretty basic, 135 years old and haven’t changed. If the swimmer touches the boat the swim is over. But hey, most of us are just ordinary swimmers. We end up broke from doing swims. So many swims we’d all like to do but can’t afford. We don’t have an industry depending on us.
Maybe I’m wrong in my interpretation also. I’m not a lawyer of open water swimming rules. I see it pretty simply. Get in and swim. Anything that can be passed to you that is swim- legal is fine. Touch the boat and it’s over. There’s an equality in Channel rules that applies to us all. We don’t want the rules changed. (On Diana Nyad’s last attempt there were some alleged reports of heat pads being passed down to her).
I’m reminded of a quote from the advertising of the Spiderman movie: “You’ll believe an ordinary man can change the world” or some such words. To which the obvious riposte was “yes, so long as he has superpowers from a radioactive spider bite”.
Luckily not too many non-swimmers read this, but I guess I’ll still get a share of abuse if anyone reads this. I’m not equating myself with Diana Nyad’s ability and track record. But I do think of Lisa in the cold and dark of the English Channel, on her double EC solo, doing something that to me was more incredible than Diana Nyad, because she didn’t have a quarter of million dollar team backing her, and she still made history. We haven’t been bitten by metaphorical radioactive spiders, so only the ordinary rules apply to us, I guess.
Before you decide to abuse me, I do agree with Diana Nyad ethos of dreaming large, of trying to go beyond yourself. I admire and applaud her vision. Once again I’ll remind you, I’m just an ordinary swimmer, commenting, on a laptop in the middle of nowhere. I don’t get to make up my own rules.
Update:After more than 40 hours of swimming and two Portuguese Man-of-War stings, Diana Nyad decided to end her swim today at 11am. But, in unique and characteristic fashion, Nyad decided to complete this day.The medical team said I should not go another two nights in the water and risk additional likely Man-of-War stings which could have a…
….which could have a long term cumulative effect on my body. But for each of us, isn’t life about determining your own finish line? This journey has always been about reaching your own other shore no matter what it is, and that dream continues.”
Looks like she’s stopped altogether.
Update: It’s a little after 10am and Diana is swimming strongly. We are 67 nautical miles from Cuba. She has a strong heart rate of 85 and is persevering. The challenge will be the prospect of crossing the Gulf Stream to reach land. Every professional aboard the flotilla, whether they be physicians or international marathon swimming hall of fame representatives, is astounded at this achievement, even to this point. The CNN tracker, which will chart Diana’s progress through the ocean, should be operational within 2 hours.
Update: 40 hours since swim started. Last night, after Diana was stung in the face by another Portuguese Man-of-War, her safety diver, Rob MacDonald, donated his heat cap that he had used when he climbed Mount Rainier. He and other crew members cut eyeholes and a mouth hole out of the cap to create a neoprene mask that was placed over Diana’s face to protect her from further stings.
Update: About 30 hours. Out of the water and on the boat after being stung. Apparently trying to decide if she can continue. The swim remains beyond my capability, under Channel rules the swim would now be officially over. I don’t understand how you can get on the boat and yet still consider getting back in and think it would constitute a record.
Update: The clock continued to run while Diana was receiving medical treatment (about 5am UTC). AND it continued to count stokes while she was not swimming…
One update from midnight US time: According to the independent observer from the International Swim Federation, Diana may continue the swim if she has only been removed from the water for medical treatment. In other words, not simply to rest. The swim then becomes something called a “staged swim,” meaning that it may occur in stages. Diana’s swim will still be record-breaking if she decides to continue. As of 11:30pm she is still receiving medical treatment aboard the Voyager.
Update: Shortly afterwards: She’s back in! At 12:20am ET, Diana has re-entered the water. She is accompanied by three shark divers and the swim has resumed.
What I wonder:
Why the clock continued to count strokes. Not that I thought it was accurate, I’m sure it was an estimate. It was, and still is counting three strokes, then a pause, (which maybe to simulate a longer glide on a breathing stroke) or they simply never thought they would have to pause it, which makes me wonder if they ever consider the possibility that they could stop swimming and then continue.
How did the Independent Observer come to this conclusion? It certainly doesn’t apply in Channel rules swimming that I’m aware of. Why didn’t we know this was a possibility? Still beyond my capability though, before you take me up wrong.
Update: It’s 2:45am. Our last update around 2 hours ago had Diana back in the water continuing her swim. Since Diana stopped to receive medical treatment, and continued at the EXACT spot where she stopped, the rules say she is now going for a record staged swim rather than a non-stop swim.
I was surprised by the Twitter announcement last night, but Diana Nyad jumped in the water at Havana last night for her third attempt, 6pm local time.
She was stung by jelly fish pretty quickly, (which they seem to be reporting incorrectly as a Moon jellies, which as we know don’t sting, probably Man O’War) but seems to overcome the issue for now, though there was an hour and a half of threading water afterwards,(which I find inconceivable).
Update: from Twitter Around 1pm -& don’t everybody get excited here – an Oceanic white tipped shark was spotted near Diana in midst of the three boat flotilla.
A lot of people who have visited here after the Penny Palfrey story probably believe the swim should immediately be abandoned. Sod that, keep going!
Update: At 3:15pm today, Diana is now 35 statutory miles from Havana about one-third of the way to Florida.
Update: 25 hours done. Still going strong.
Update: About 30 hours. Out of the water and on the boat after being stung. Apparently trying to decide if she can continue. The swim remains beyond my capability, under Channel rules the swim would now be officially over. I don’t understand how you can get on the boat and yet still consider getting back in and think it would constitute a record.
Update: The clock continued to run while Diana was receiving medical treatment. AND it continued to count stokes while she was not swimming.
One update from midnight US time: According to the independent observer from the International Swim Federation, Diana may continue the swim if she has only been removed from the water for medical treatment. In other words, not simply to rest. The swim then becomes something called a “staged swim,” meaning that it may occur in stages. Diana’s swim will still be record breaking if she decides to continue. As of 11:30pm she is still receiving medical treatment aboard the Voyager.
I think we all want to see this. Since this swim was such high-profile, once of the prices to be paid, which others with a lesser profile like myself can ignore, is the demand for instant satiation of curiosity. What happened?
Hell, my traffic went up 400% on Monday and Tuesday. This was a real global open water swimming story.
It takes another kind of courage to be that public. Ironically, given this site, it’s not something I could to do. I prefer not to talk about stuff I might try, and only talk about it afterwards. It’s not that I care about talking about failures either, it’s just I could do without the extra visibility. It’s easier to be anonymous. Yeah, I know, you find that funny, coming from me.
There’s updates in Diana’s blog. And Steve’s article, since he was on the swim, and he has observed more swims than anyone else outside (and maybe including) the English Channel crews
Of all that’s written, some really struck me:
“Descending gradually into a hell that is known well by endurance athletes, it is always tough for her crew and friends to witness.” I understand that, as both a swimmer and crew. And find it just as difficult to explain as Steve does.
When this started happening: “For every 15 minutes in the water, she was stopping for a total of 10 minutes under the light of the moon“, crew like Steve must have known the writing was on the wall. Over here in our cold waters those frequent stops are a real indication of hypothermic onset.
Stung all over her body. Vomiting. Despairing. Unfortunately I can imagine some of it. I’ve had just one Portuguese Man O’ War sting and it was like being hit by an electric cattle prod (I imagine, not being a cow, just a bullshitter).
I know what it’s like to vomit while swimming, (but not from seasickness). I know what it’s like to despair on a swim. I know how asthma makes you feel like you are choking and all you can think of is getting enough air into your body and you would do anything for that air. But I didn’t have to talk immediately (or ever) about any of them nor to know the world was watching was it was happening and demanding answers.
1. Establish order and define responsibilities among one’s crew. 2. Stay positive throughout the swim 3. Stay vocal during the swim 4. Offer comfort food at important times 5. Stay engaged and communicate
I could write an article about each of those from my limited experience, but why bother when Steve puts it so comprehensively.
Thanks to Steve & Diana for the updates. Well done to all. I’m sure it was torture for the crews as well as for Diana.
I don’t usually write anything if a friend of mine has a problem on a long swim. But I know a lot of you came here yesterday looking for the tracker (and I don’t know Diana).
Unfortunately Diana Nyad’s swim was abandoned within the last hour 12.15am EST after 29 hours. According to her Twitter, it was Diana herself who made the decision:
“Realizing the conditions of 5 to 10 knot winds and less than ideal currents, Diana herself decided to end the swim”.
Some CNN video from before the end said she had both shoulder and asthma problems, something all swimmers will understand. She was vomiting as she abandoned, which could be an indicator on sea-sickness also.
Best wishes and congratulations to Diana from us all.
Best wishes also to the crew (especially Steve), always forgotten by most people in these times, it’s always hard for them.
Aside: Not forgotten by her Number One fan (me!): Lisa Cummins spent 36 hours in the English Channel in 2009 and will always be my number one sports person, anytime anywhere, no disrespect to anyone else. And CS&PF President Nick (Hey Prez. Nick) unknown to anyone except the Channel community tackled a Double-Channel two weeks ago while Chloe McCardel attempted a Triple, neither were successful but our respect for those folks also remains stellar as we know them to be extraordinary athletes who are already successes in the Channel as is the respect I have for any Ultra marathon swimmer, successful or not, who puts in such a heroic attempt as Diana.
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who attempted to become the first person to swim between Cuba and Florida without a shark cage, was forced to abandon her effort early Tuesday morning — roughly halfway through her journey.
Nyad was vomiting when she was brought aboard a boat at 12:45 a.m. Tuesday — 29 hours after she jumped into the water Sunday.
“I am not sad. It was absolutely the right call,” she said.
Nyad, who is 61, struggled through ocean swells, shoulder pain and asthma Monday before she was forced to give up the 103-mile swim. Strong winds and less than ideal currents played into her decision, her team said.
“Earlier in the evening, she was surrounded by dolphins and a beautiful Caribbean sunset. But strong currents blew her 15mph off course,” her team posted on her Twitter account.
The attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida was the second for the swimmer, who said at a news conference Sunday that she is fitter today than she was in 1978, when she first attempted the crossing but was unable to finish.
It took several months to gain permission for the swim from Cuban and U.S. authorities. Bureaucratic snags repeatedly threatened to call off the effort — already called off in 2010 because of weather.
“To swim between these two neighbors, Cuba & the United States, who’ve been strangers all these years, is a moving thing for me,” Nyad had said.
She had been training for the event for two years, swimming up to 12 hours a day.
A team of more than 30 people supported Nyad as she attempted the crossing. She had 10 handlers to advise her as she swam, ocean kayakers towing devices to repel most sharks and divers and safety officers trained to distract sharks that were not turned away.”
Sea surface temps for us cold water swimmers: