Tag Archives: marathon swimmers

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 5 – Probity & Integrity.

Parts 1, 23, 4

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 not truthful 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.

Trent Grimsey picking up litterSylvain 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.

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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

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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.

Diana Nyad on Facebook - so much bollocks
Diana Nyad on Facebook – so much bollocks

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).
  • During the storm, both Observers were away from the swim and swimmer on a different boat. (This account was published two weeks after the panel).

Integrity and Probity

  • 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 36 years of false claims about her Around Manhattan swim.
  • 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”.

Occam’s Razor

  • 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.

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Primus Inter Pares.
Primus Inter Pares.

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.

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{While I have you, I’d like to point out something else that I wrote, that I think is just as important, in which I also address something which directly addresses swimmers, but the ending of which was overwhelmed by the Diana Nyad fiasco, and that’s the omni-shambles of 2013’s MIMS and the implication for future MIMS applicants}.

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HOW TO: Important factors in marathon swim feeding

Evan did a great 4-part series on open water marathon feeding and nutrition. I’ve covered the possible use of Choline supplementation and I’ve a long-standing request in with a friend for a guest post on the subject of further supplementation.

Given some questions that have arisen though, it seems we haven’t covered enough of the subject. It struck me that we hadn’t covered mechanics and some of the complicating factors.

Let’s start with a reminder:

The most important thing is: Feeding is different for everyone.

Feeding is not diet or general nutrition, but the process of taking in nutrition/food for energy during a long swim. It’s a long and complex subject which entertains and causes endless discussion amongst marathon swimmers.

The next most thing, the marathon swimming motto: Practice everything.

  • First, when do you have to feed?

You can generally assume that you have enough glycogen in your body to last from two to three hours. (Contingent on not having depleted it in training or recent exercise).

So for a swim or race under two hours, you probably don’t need to feed.

Swims where feeding is necessary dictate practice and experience.

FINA marathoners will probably feed small amount every 10 minutes from a plastic cup. This technique was pioneered by Peggy Dean and the US team in the 80’s. The rest of us tend to feed at intervals from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. (I feed at thirty minutes). But this MUST be tested, everyone’s requirements are different.

Also, you may not need or want to start on intervals right from the start of a marathon swim. it’s quite common that swimmers will feed hourly for the first two OR three hours and then switch to their shorter interval. Once again, I cannot tell you what those times will be for you. The four to eight-hour swims that we do in Sandycove give us the advantage to test these factors. It is another reason faking a qualifying swim makes someone a fool to a more experienced swimmer.

  • Second – what do you feed on?

For most swimmers, the primary fuel is maltodextrin, pure carbs,, as Evan has covered in detail. (Not however glucose). The product name isn’t important though Maxim is by far the most popular for distance swimmers as it has no taste and can be added to any food or drink. It’s a 100% maltodextrin. High5 or similar are carbs with a protein mix in a 4:1 ration, scientifically shown to be more effective in metabolization but has proven to be a problem for many swimmers (e.g. me) in distance sea swimming for a few reasons: (salt intake, prone position, soya protein metabolization).

Again, there are many exceptions. Some swimmers like gel pack (like GU) others won’t touch them, as they can be useless because they require a separate liquid intake, and the salt intake during a swim can make them useless or cause exceptional bloating or vomiting. Some English Channel Pilots only believe in/use Maxim.  Many swimmers have no problem with a 4:1 protein/carb mix, (I am not one, like a lot of swimmers, I found after about four to five hours with it I am no longer able to digest). Some swimmers forego these methods and swim on solid food (Penny Palfrey used dilute porridge).

  • How do you feed?

For myself for swims, I attach a D-clip to the bottle itself (whether by tape, string or lid attachment), and then the line attached to the clip, rather than tying a line to a bottle directly, as having multiple changeable bottles allows more flexibility.

Alan Clack’s feed pole

Feed (dolly) poles (typically a wooden brush handle … ) have a hook or holder on the end, which hand a cup or bottle to the swimmer. The one on the left is one used by Alan Clack on a 10k Lac d’Archambeau swim last year.  Poles are good in flat water but they are less flexible in bad weather as they require a fixed distance to the swimmer. If using a pole the swimmer must not grab the pole itself. I’ve also seen (and used) a telescopic fishing pole but the line is too light and too easily tangled.

Or simply a bottle dropped on a rope. The problem with this is knots and retracting the line (this was a mistake I hadn’t considered in the Channel).  A solution I’ve seen and really liked is a simple traditional-type kite reel (usually made of plastic).

My subsequent solution … A retractable dog-leash, my choice for future swims. So much easier for the crew.

Retractable Dog leash


  • Feed containers

Many experienced swimmers will often only use a container or bottle with particular features. I’ve written before about the God Bottle. This is not necessarily a minor concern as using a wrong bottle type for a swimmer can lead to salt water or air ingestion, both significant is you are swimming for more than 6 or 8 hours. Gábor used a narrow neck squeezy sports bottle, as that was what he used in training and practised with. (I must have a wide neck bottle… However some swimmers just don’t care or don’t have an issue).

Mike Oram, famous English Channel pilot, prefers plastic milk cartons, which have a wide neck and a handle to attack the line, and are easily replaced. Liam Maher added the point that it might be good idea to collect your milk lids for a week before hand, so the crew have more lids than bottles, that way the swimmer isn’t focused on trying to replace the lid.

Stephen Redmond feeding in Catalina

Stephen Redmond  uses a twin bottle approach to swimming: A standard squeezy bottle and a shaker bottle, taped together but in opposite directions for easier access!


  • Is it a cold water swim?

You must consider the water temperature: Should the food be warm or cold? Most Channel swims are cold or cool water so warm feeds are essential. But that can require  a lot of warm water. Your pilot may have a galley where water can be heated, but in rough weather this isn’t easy. One solution to this, just in case, is to bring a thermos (or many) of hot water. Pre-mix the feed to double concentration (half volume) and top up with hot water. The crew MUST be careful not to burn the swimmer, which can happen easily as the swimmer’s mouth will cool down during a swim. Bringing a thermos also frees up the crew to look after you.

  • Will you need/use electrolytes?

In a sea swim, the best swimmers will still ingest salt from the air. So the actual salt requirement is low. One misconception I run with swimmers into all the time, is the bodies need for potassium. How many times have you seen/heard someone have a cramp while pool swimming and someone tells them to eat a banana beforehand “for the potassium”? But usually that’s just simple dehydration. Bananas also provide magnesium, another essential salt, used for ATP synthesis, but we do not need huge amounts of either and deficiencies are rare, and in fact too much potassium in a 24 hours period will slow digestion and cause vomiting. That said, scheduling in an electrolyte is not uncommon for long swims, and allows the body a respite from the carbs.

  • Do you have a feed plan?
An hourly feed plan give a swimmer confidence their requirements are being met. Just as importantly, if the primary crew person goes down with sea-sickness, a feed plan that can be handed onto the next person means continuity in feeding. Feed plans can include extras. For example mine includes an asthma inhaler drop on four hourly breaks, just in case. The plan can also be used to schedule in special treats or prophylactic pain-killers.
  • How long do you expect the swim to last?

Do you have enough supplies if your swim runs over expected time? If you are Lisa or Stephen and are out in the water for 24 to 36 hours, do you have enough water and carb to keep going, all other things being equal? Are there enough supplies … for the crew? Better to take 40 litres and throw out 20, than take 10 litres and need 12. (I know this is not environmentally sound, but there is no way around it).

Finally, do not assume that knowledge of feeding in other endurance events will transfer to sea-swimming. It most likely will not, for example the gel packs beloved of tri-athletes, the extra salt intake and the prone position, are all complicating factors in sea-swimming.

Remember, practice everything. Which means consider and think about everything.

Stephen Redmond completes Catalina Channel

He had a tough swim apparently, (those who know of Stephen know those words seem unusual together). Stephen is the first (and only) person to solo Fastnet Lighthouse. Fastnet might mean nothing to you, unless you are a sailor or Irish, but it’s some of the most fearsome open water in Atlantic coastal waters due to huge swells and wind.

Fastnet or Carraig Aonair
Image via Wikipedia

Don’t have a time yet. That’s English, Gibraltar, North and Catalina Channels from the Ocean’s Seven done!

Next he’s off to Hawaii for Molokai. Go Stephen! With the North Channel already done for him, and if he can find the funds, he might catch up with Penny Palfrey in the chase. Or maybe first woman, and first man? Wow, this is exciting. Really looking forward to this year’s Irish Channel party in three weeks.

Penny Palfrey in Dover

Ocean’s Seven – Six down, one to go for Penny Palfrey

From Penny Palfrey’s site:

Ocean Seven – 6 Down 1 to Go For Penny

The [O]cean’s Seven is the marathon swimming equivalent of the mountain climbing challenge, the “Seven Summits”. But unlike its land based equivalent, the ocean’s seven has never been completed.

(Donal’s note: The Ocean’s Seven was proposed as a goal by Steve Munatones. Steve, did you think someone would get so close so quickly? Although I guess it always seemed that Penny was the most likely?)

The seven swims referred to, are as follows (together with details of location, distance and particular difficulties/challenges) :

English Channel (England to France – 34k) – cold, strong currents, heavy shipping traffic. (Another note from Donal. I wish to dog it had only been 34k. 60k for me!)

Cook Strait (between north and south islands of New Zealand – 26k) – cold, strong currents, marine life

Molokai Channel (between Molokai and Oahu, Hawaii – 42k) – big oceanic swells, strong currents, marine life

Catalina channel (California, Los Angeles – 33k) – swum at night, cold, marine life

Tsugaru Strait (Japan – 20k) – very strong currents, cold, often rough

Strait of Gibraltar (Spain to Morocco – 15k) – strong currents, windy, heavy shipping traffic

Irish North Channel (between Scotland and Ireland – 34k) – very cold, often rough and windy, nasty jellyfish

With Penny’s recent conquest of the Tsugaru Strait, between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu, Penny‘s now completed all of the above, except for the North Channel.”

Penny Palfrey in Dover