This past Monday, the most famous and charismatic open water swimmer of modern times, Diana Nyad, emerged from the sea at Key West and fulfilled her dream of swimming the Straits of Florida.
Ms. Nyad’s feat was headline news around the world – probably the biggest mainstream headlines for open water swimming of my lifetime. Millions were inspired by the dogged will of a 64-year old woman, taking on a challenge that had already defeated her four times, and had eluded swimmers half her age and twice her speed.
When she somehow had the presence of mind, still dripping wet, to urge the crowd gathered on the beach: “Never, ever give up… You are never too old to chase your dreams,” well… it was the stuff of movies. Incidentally, a documentary film about Ms. Nyad’s thirty-year quest – The Other Shore – will be released in three weeks.
By temperament, I’m not typically inspired by platitudes. But as a fellow marathon swimmer, I was inspired by the possibilities suggested by Diana’s swim. If it’s possible for a 64-year old to swim 110 miles in 53 hours, then anything is possible.
As a marathon swimmer, I’m also obsessed with details… data… information. Many of us are – I think it’s one reason the Marathon Swimmers Forum works so well. And in reading through Diana’s crew’s live-blog, trying to suss out how this incredible swim happened, I was struck by how little information there actually was. There was a lot of content, but most of it seemed aimed at the casual follower (or even pre-written), with little of the hard data that experienced marathon swimmers seek in piecing together a story of a swim.
Among other reasons, these details matter because Ms. Nyad is claiming – and the media reporting without fact-checking – a new world record for longest-distance nonstop, unassisted ocean swim, previously set by Penny Palfrey. Actually, forget the long-distance record: If Ms. Nyad’s swim was indeed nonstop and unassisted, as claimed, it might be the greatest marathon swim of all time, by any person, of any age.
And so it began. At first, just a discussion; but eventually, a full-fledged social media campaign among the global community of marathon swimmers – at Marathonswimmers.org and on Facebook – to encourage Ms. Nyad and her team to publicly release her swim data. And, in its own way, just as unprecedented as the swim itself.
- 110 miles, 53 hours: Questions for Diana Nyad (Marathon Swimmers Forum)
As a freelance writer and open-water swimmer, Suzanne Sataline was in a perfect position to pick up on this emerging story. Thursday morning, her article went live at National Geographic Online:
- Swimmers Question Diana Nyad’s Cuba-to-Florida Feat: Some demand more details about the record-setting open-water marathon swim.
The National Geographic piece was soon re-reported by other outlets:
- Outside Online (“Nyad’s Cuba-Florida Swim Under Attack“)
- GrindTV (“Was Diana Nyad’s epic swim as remarkable as it was portrayed to be?“)
- Dallas Morning Views (“Did Diana Nyad swim 110 miles unaided? Does it matter?“)
- Deadspin (“Was Diana Nyad’s Cuba-To-Florida Swim Legit? Haters Want To Know“)
EDIT: A few hours after this post went live, the Associated Press published a well-reported story including statements from Diana’s team:
- Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim (Jennifer Kay – AP)
The result has been unprecedented traffic to Marathonswimmers.org, and even a DoS attack, which frankly I take as a compliment. It’s been an interesting week in the world of marathon swimming – and at my keyboard.
Stay tuned — the story continues to develop…