Tag Archives: Steve Munatones

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 4 – Assisted or Unassisted?

Parts 1, 2, 3.

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.

(This article about Walter Poenisch, his wife and widow, and the part a much younger Diana Nyad played in trying to destroy his life is astonishing, essential reading).

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 for Assisted 

2 votes for Unassisted

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.

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 3 – Diana Nyad, Penny Dean and me

Parts 1& 2.

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.

——>> Jump.

Gertrude Ederle, just to break up the page
Gertrude Ederle, just to break up the page

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.

Jump ——>>

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).

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 1- Some History

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:

  1. Deliberate misleading of the public and supporters by not publishing any rules or guidelines before any of the swims.
  2. 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.
  3. Obfuscation of actual events during swims. Briefly mentioned here, much more detail can be found on the forum.
  4. 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.

This post has been approved by the sport of open water swimming. Diana Nyad has made repeated statements that imply she has the blessing or approval of this mysterious organisation.

Comments on Diana Nyad’s heat drip device. A discussion of a questionable device and the treatment of swimmers by Diana Nyad.

Post Diana Nyad swim. The point at which I lost interest.

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. 

25 signs of being a marathon swimmer

I came across this article on 25 signs that you might be a marathon swimmer, by Steve Munatones, on active.com because of a sudden slew of mentions of the article on Twitter. I think it was written some time ago, but I’m not sure.

I thought I’d see if I had the potential to be a marathon swimmer. :-)

1. Your favorite author is Lynne Cox.

Lynn Cox wrote a famous to swimmers autobiography of her life and adventures in long-distance swimming. She isn’t my favourite author, I read too much, but I understand the point. And of course I have the book. 

2. You have four jars of lanolin in your car.lanolin and other types of grease and lubrication

Alan Clack brought in 1.5 kilograms of lanolin in two jars from Canada for me when I was running out last year and worrying about the national shortage that non-one was taking seriously. I’ve got sufficient for about five four years now. (I gave Gábor a tub after I wrote that sentence). No, you can’t have any of mine.

3. You equate the sight of neoprene with someone scratching their fingernails on a blackboard.

I recently felt compelled to write a haiku about neoprene for myself while I was swimming skin in 8 degree water. Yes, you’ll probably get to see at some point in the future.

4. You are Facebook friends with 36 of the 49 Triple Crown swimmers.

I’m not on Facebook but I sure know many of them, whether personally, through email, or through the marathonswimmers.org forum. I’ve even collected autographs!

5. Ocean’s Seven is on your bucket list.

I fail this one. Ocean’s Seven has not been a dream of mine.

6. An email from Philip Rush is like winning the lottery.

I remember the excitement the first time I got copied on an email from Ted Eriskson. And Penny Palfrey. And Anne Cleveland, Scott Zornig, Dave Barra, Chloe McCardel, etc. Steve Munatones was the common point of origin for many of these emails. Lisa Cummins is one of my friends, Kevin Murphy sent me Christmas wishes and Steve Redmond rang me for a chat this morning. Shameless name-dropping!

Mixing Maxim
Mixing Maxim

7. You know the components of Maxim.

It’s just maltodextrin, aka rocket-fuel. I recently saw someone write somewhere that there is protein in it, which there isn’t. If you want the definitive discussion of maltodextrin in swimming, Evan’s blog is the place.

8. You feel like you’ve been to Sandycove even though you’ve never visited Europe.

Well I guess that’s obvious. Owen and I were talking recently and I reminded him of the Sandycove AGM a couple of years ago. I’d just created the Sandycove website and I wanted everyone to start pushing awareness of the website as the introduction to one of the world’s great open water swimming clubs, whenever they could, email signatures, forums, blogs etc. Almost everyone looked at me like I was mad. Two years later …

Sandycove panorama
Sandycove panorama

9. You read Donal Buckley‘s blog first thing in the morning.

That’s quite gratifying, and thanks to Steve for that comment. My blog, a sign of mental aberration! LoneSwimmer.com is three years at the end of this month, by the way. For the first time in my life I have a nickname. Well, one that can be repeated on polite society. I do not yet refer to myself in the third person though. Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with new stuff, when it’s the depths of winter, there’s not a lot to report and the time in the water is too short to be very inspired. My 2012 photos have helped recently.

10. The MarathonSwimmers Forum is your favorite online property.

Again, this is great. marathonswimmers.org is becoming what Evan and I hoped, a real online meeting place and discussion and argument place for the world’s marathon and aspirant marathon swimmers.

11. For you, single-digit swimming is doable, not dangerous.

Single digit swimming is bloody unavoidable if you want to be an open water swimmer in Ireland or the UK. I know enough to know there’s a huge difference between 9 C and 5 C.

12. When Mike Oram speaks, you listen.

I do indeed read everything Mike Oram commits to the Channel chat group. (I don’t agree with it all though).

13. When you see a body of water, you wonder what the water temperature is.

I don’t really wonder about temperature of bodies of water unless I am actually going to swim in them. Is that a yes or a no? I just assume there are all cold, it’s easier.

14. When you see a body of water, you Google it to see if it has even been swum.

Google Earth is one of the great modern additions to marathon swimming, and I wish to hell Google would update the entire Irish coast in full resolution, especially the bit around Dungarvan.

15. & 16. Your first question upon landing in San Francisco is, “Where is Aquatic Park?”. You know the difference between the Dolphin Club and South End Rowing Club.

I know where Aquatic Park is (though I haven’t swum there). And La Jolla in San Diego (I have swum there). I do feel my swimming Curriculum Vitae is somewhat remiss by not having a South End membership on it. Yet.

17. After your 100 x 100s, you head to the beach.

I’ve swum 27,000 metres in the pool with The Magnificent Seven and then we’ve gone immediately to the sea and swum in 7 degrees Celsius water. That one sea swim is what led to my reputation with Coach Eilis as being reckless.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.
Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.

18. Swimming extra on holidays is a given.

Isn’t swimming what holidays are for? A better way of explaining this is that you are going somewhere where there is no chance of a swim. But you take your swimming gear anyway.

19. You always wonder if you have done enough and stress out when others do more.

My solution to mileage concerns has been to try to swim at least a million metres per year regardless. I still stress.

20. You fret about every twinge in your shoulders.

Fret is too mild a word when it comes to shoulder pain worry. Before MIMS last year for two weeks I kept repeating to Dee and Lisa that something was wrong, something was wrong but I couldn’t explain it. Nothing was wrong, apparently.

21. “Nothing great is easy”, is your favorite quote.2010 Capt Webb Dawley Memorial 7 Nothing_Great_Is_Easy

Nothing Great is Easy becomes your favourite quote when you’ve earned it the hard way.

22. You love bioluminescence.

I do. I really do. Bioluminescense is the sea’s gift to night-swimmers.

The Purple Stinger
The Purple Stinger

23. & 24. You have considered—many times—how to punch a shark. You know more types of jellyfish than you do cats.

 

Sharks don’t actually exist. They are faked in the same studios as the moon landing. Jellyfish are a different matter. Those multitudinous feckers. I keep swimming into new types I don’t recognise. When did I ever think I’d start to recognise different species of jellyfish?  Are there more than two kinds of cat; nasty and more nasty?

25. You diet to gain bioprene.

I’ve lost weight recently and my cold water tolerance is badly affected. Bad bad Donal.

Well, do I pass? Can I become a marathon swimmer?

Two Irish Inductees for International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMHSOF)

It’s a great pleasure to announce TWO Irish Nominees Inductees for International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, Class of 2011.

From The Daily News of Open Water Swimming. Quotes from Ned & Martin Cullen.

The Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA) - honoured for 40+ years of excellence and promotion of the sport

Martin Cullen, the Public Relations Officer of the ILDSA replied to the IMSHOF announcement:  “We in the ILDSA are delighted at the recognition of the tremendous work that has been done over the many years by so many people in the organisation. In all parts of the country there are individuals who teach, encourage, promote and arrange swimming at various wonderful locations. Over the past 10 years there has been a far greater awareness of what we do and it is so pleasing to see so many new people getting involved.  A real indication of the success of open water swimming in Ireland is the large amount of Irish swimmers taking on and completing some of the great swims around the world. Your recognition will encourage further development and increase awareness that such a small country has made such a big leap forward.”

Ned Denison – honoured for his contribution to marathon swimming

Since 2005, 16 English Channel solo swimmers have come from Sandycove Island in Kinsale – over seven years the 3rd most successful training location in the world (behind Dover Harbour and the Serpentine in London).  As one of the 16, I can attest to Ned as a FORCE to motivate and create an environment which results in success.   Many of you would have “caught the distance bug” from Ned during his presentations at 13 seminars around Ireland to over 350 attendees.  Over 50 of you have signed up already for his Cork Distance Week in June 2012 – to drive further success.  I caught Ned at a loss for words (a first ?!?) after the announcement:   “I credit and thank Martin Cullen for providing easy access into the sport and teaching me how to run a proper marathon swim event.  It was then possible to leverage off 10+ years of successful swimming around Sandycove Island, the big mass participation Cork swims and the best marathon swim coach in the country, Eilís Burns.  Finally, my wife Anne supported my passion in every way possible.” 

 They join Ireland’s previous honourees:

1944 Ted Keenan – the first Irishman to swim the English Channel

1999 Billy Wallace – the leading light of the ILDSA for many years

After 2010 which saw Anne-Marie Ward honoured as the Global Open Water Swimmer of the Year – Ireland is a rising star in the Open Water Swimming World !

Updates on Diana Nyad’s swim

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.

Counterpointing the swim accounts is Steve’s great article on what can be done when a swimmer is down. Anyone who has crewed for a big swim understands this.

His simply defined 5 essentials are familiar:

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.