Diana Nyad's Historic Swim from Cuba to Florida Draws Skepticism from Swimmers

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

Photo Courtesy: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images via CNN.com
Photo Courtesy: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images via CNN.com

Last week, Diana Nyad became the first person to complete the long-distance swim from Cuba to the United States without the benefit of a shark cage. While her accomplishment drew widespread praise and media coverage, some fellow long-distance swimmers remain skeptical.

Nyad started her journey in Havana and arrived in Key West, Fla., about 53 hours later. It was the 64-year-old American's fifth attempt at the 110-mile feat. She wore protective gear to prevent jellyfish attacks, which were an issue during previous attempts.

Upon completing the marathon swim, she told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta the effort was "authentic" and said it was a dream that finally came true.

It's all authentic. It's a great story. You have a dream 35 years ago—doesn't come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it's somewhere back there. Then you turn 60, and your mom just dies, and you're looking for something. And the dream comes waking out of your imagination.

Nyad even received a message of congratulations from President Barack Obama on Twitter.

Some long-distance swimmers haven't been as quick to accept the outcome, however.

Suzanne Sataline of National Geographic reports the skeptics aren't sure the results are legitimate and still have many questions about whether she completed the 110 miles without aid.

One point of contention stems from the so-called "English Channel rules," which state a swimmer can't use protective gear, as Nyad did due to the jellyfish. They also took issue with the boat streamer that helped guide her during the journey.

Another issue is the lack of an independent observer to take notes, track progress and ensure the swim was completed without any help from the crew beyond providing food and drink. Evan Morrison, creator of the Marathon Swimmers Forum, provided further reasoning, via Sataline:

Because it's a solitary sport and not watched live by many people, it's important to record notes and take down documentation so when people ask the question, "did you actually do this," you have evidence.

The lack of available data to help other swimmers determine exactly where she was during every stage of the journey makes it difficult for many to accept her seemingly remarkable effort.

Things such as a notable swing in her average speed are standing out to those who are well versed in the subject of long-distance swims, according to the report.

Also, there's an extended period during the swim where she apparently didn't return to the boat for food or a drink. That doesn't sit well with some, who raise questions about what truly happened during that time, via Sataline:

Several swimmers point out a curious 7.5-hour stretch when it appears that Nyad did not eat or drink. Her crew reported that she was cold and didn't want to stop. Some swimmers said it's doubtful that after swimming 38 hours, Nyad could endure more than 7 without refueling.

"Is it possible she rested on the boat and she's not telling us?" Morrison said.

Of course, these questions and all others raised by fellow swimmers are nothing more than speculation at this point. While they point toward the lack of data supporting her swim, there's also no evidence to say it wasn't completed fairly.

A report from the Associated Press via the Duluth News Tribune included comments from navigator John Bartlett, who explained the increase in speed was simply due to currents. All information collected by him and the other observers will be checked by "three open-water swimming associations and the Guinness World Records for verification."

Whether those associations will verify the results is unknown. But even that might not be enough to convince the doubters, who clearly have plenty of questions and aren't getting enough answers to satisfy their concerns.  

Nyad has received plenty of attention since finishing the swim. Whether it's warranted is up for debate, at least among skeptical fellow swimmers.