For anybody interested in marathon swimming and wanting to have a better context into Diana Nyad’s swim, The Marathon Swimmers Forum‘s thread titled 110 miles, 53 hours: questions for Diana Nyad should be required reading. In it, swimmers raised legitimate questions in the aftermath of Diana Nyad’s giant swim with the intention of better understanding its detail, the rules that were applied, and clarify some statements made by Diana’s own team…statements such as Diana not eating or drinking for over 7 hours well into her swim would not raise an eyebrow to most people, but they sure raise question marks to experienced marathon swimmers. I’ve always been impressed by the high level of collaboration and willingness to help fellow swimmers found in Marathon Swimmers Forum (MSF). In a survey to open water swimmers that we launched last February and that got 180 responses form open water swimmers, we asked them to tell us what their favorite open water forums/blogs/communities were. The Marathon Swimmers Forum had the most votes by a wide margin.
“You’ll find an unprecedented amount of support and sharing of information on this forum regarding planning and researching swims… likewise the celebration of successful swims and heroic efforts that may fall short seem to me to be on equal terms.” — David Barra on The Marathon Swimmers Forum
Asking for transparency and access to information should be the norm for any athletic achievement. Transparency is particularly important for lesser known sports such as marathon swimming and achievements that get picked up by the mainstream media and broadcasted with no filtering to the entire world. By asking legitimate questions from the “expert” perspective and providing a balanced view in the full context of marathon swimming, MSF members took on a role that nobody else was doing and they did out of the love of their sport. They approached Nyad’s swim in the same way that they approach any other swim and with the same level of respect and objectivity. They should be commended for that, not called “haters”, like they were by many who did not necessarily know what they were talking about.
I am happy for the attention that open water swimming is getting these days. It is hard to get this sport in the public spotlight, so any attention that any swimmer who subjects him/herself to the sacrifices required by this sport is very welcome. Interestingly I was talking to a colleague at work about Hector Ramírez’ recent butterfly swim across the Strait of Gibraltar (!). In normal times, my colleague’s eyes would have simply glazed before moving onto more commonly interesting subjects. But now it was different. He made a quick mental calculation and said that Hector’s effort was nice, but Diana’s swim was anywhere between 7.5 times (53 hours vs 7 hours) and 9.7 times (176 km vs 18 km) harder. Swim4Good teammate Susan Moody was also recently asked if she feels like a slacker after “only” swimming Gibraltar. It was in a joking manner and all, but let’s face it: it’s the way people think. Diana’s swim is now being generally used as the ultimate swim and the yardstick by which other swimmers should be measured against. It’s not that marathon swimmers give a hoot about public recognition (they would have chosen a different sport if it were the case), but having Diana’s swim as the ultimate target is neither correct nor relevant.
I am incredibly impressed by Diana’s achievement and, more than anything, I’m in utter awe of her tenacity in making her lifelong dream a reality. That, in itself, is something that should be written about and told again and again as the ultimate “never give up” story that we all should aspire to. But on a personal level, I am equally as impressed by Steven Redmond, Trent Grimsey, David Barra, Grace Van der Byl, Darren Miller, Tina Neill, Chloe McCardel, Antonio Arguelles, Nora Toledano, Damian Blaum, Esther Nuñez, Owen O’Keefe, Evan Morrisson, Donal Buckley, Lisa Cummins, Kim Chambers, Anna-Carin Nordin, Michelle Macy and many many other swimmers who have had recent and amazing swims (all well-documented) while contributing greatly towards the further development of this sport and providing support to their fellow marathon swimmers. Anybody clicking on any of the above links will be floored by these swimmer’s achievements and contributions both in and out of the water.
Going back further in time and relevant to Diana’s swim, I am also impressed by Susie Maroney who, in May 1997, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida in 25 hours. Any direct or indirect implication to put these swims in a lesser category or put a “but” to their achievements is kinda disturbing and is something that we should care about. Diana Nyad says that she was the first person to have completed the Cuba-Florida swim “unassisted and without a shark cage”. This, in a sense, puts a “but” to Susie Maroney’s Cuba-Florida swim mentioned before: Yes, she swam it, “but” she used a shark cage. Diana did not swim in a shark cage because she did not need one. The boats and kayaks accompanying her had sonar-emitting devices that drive away sharks. And just in case a shark managed to sneak by, Diana had specialized shark divers to drive the animals away. Diana’s successful swim was assisted by the use of many other enhancers that Susie Maroney did not have.
“I would like to know when DN’s swim goes from “first ever without a shark cage or fins” to “first ever with stinger suit, jelly mask, streamer, handlers applying jelly salve, handlers applying sunscreen, handlers applying Vaseline, handlers assisting with dressing and undressing the stinger suit, handlers applying duct tape, handlers hand feeding, physicians conducting physicals, jelly professionals scooping jellies out of the swimmer’s path, shark divers shooing sharks, and current aided”? — RuffWater on The Marathon Swimmers Forum
Getting the wording right is not a matter of simple semantics: It is important for the sport and for those that come next.
What I care about is she is trying to claim this as the first unassisted swim. No, you were not unassisted. Assisted/unassisted have a meaning in open water swimming. She should not get the first unassisted swim designation. That has yet to be done. If she wants first without a shark cage – whatever… but you damn well better document and spell out what the swim was to provide the baseline for swimmers who come after….After so many years in the sport to not know the importance of having experienced, impartial observers, to not be clear before and after on what happened may gain her sympathy from the unknowing masses but frankly erodes any respect from those within the swimming community. — Sylmarino on The Marathon Swimmers Forum
Diana’s swim is definitely a first in terms of media and public attention. Now Diana has a great opportunity to lead the marathon swimming community into the public forum while gaining their respect by further bringing full disclosure to her swim and recognizing the achievements of fellow swimmers.
Categories: Open Water