Why Rules Are Important

Written by channel swimmer Sarah Thomas on the Marathon Swimmers Forum 
[110 miles, 53 hours: Question for Diana Nyad].

I’m sensing confusion about the “rules” from a few people, which indicates to me that there’s not a clear understanding as to why the rules are so important to us. As a swimmer who follows these pesky “English Channel Rules” in every swim, regardless of the body of water being swum, maybe I can provide some insight into the mentality of most of us on this forum.

I completely understand that the concept of these rules may be foreign to some who are participating in this conversation. I’ve had to explain the ideas and rules to many people over the years. You guys are definitely normal. It makes sense to me that until you’ve actually swum (or aspire to swim) a channel following English Channel Rules, that some of this might not make a lot of sense.

The thing is, we channel swimmers have to put an awful lot of trust in each other. Not always is someone’s word enough to prove that they did something that they say they did. Before there was the CSA and CS&PF, if someone claimed they had swum the English Channel, how did we know they had done so, legitimately? It makes sense that over time, norms and rules and organizations were put into place so that the swimmer can say “I swam the English Channel” and as a community, we know what that means. There are observers, logs, and usually pictures/videos and GPS tracking.

If you swim a race, the rules are published, so everyone knows what to expect in preparation and from results. Am I racing in the same category as someone in a wetsuit, or are they divided? Are there age groups? What swim suits are allowed/not allowed? How many caps can I wear? Etc.

As a group, for many, many years, rule setting and following has been essential to building trust among members of our community.

When each of us braved our very first channel swim, I can guarantee that we all checked the rules, read the rules, memorized the rules, made sure the rules were read to us and explained in clarity. Double checked the rules. We made sure we had someone to observe and to record their observations. And we do that every time. It’s normal to us- just part of the procedure.

I understand that the avid channel swimmers are maybe a bit rigid and stubborn, but that’s just what it takes to do what we do. You don’t swim extraordinary distances in extreme conditions and not be particular about the rules. We don’t cheat and we’re honest about our failures. (In fact, sometimes the failures are just as celebrated as the successes.) We want to be able to go to sleep at night, knowing we accomplished something fairly and legitimately. Most of us don’t strive for recognition or publicity. We just want to be able to say “I did something great today” to the few friends who understand what that means.

When something comes along that seems to dilute what we hold dear to our hearts- our personal integrity and the trust we’ve built among our community- I think it makes sense that we get a little feisty.

There may be some obscure rule out there that says my crew can touch me for safety issues. However, I can assure you- If anyone on my crew actually did touch me, for any reason, I would disqualify myself. If I need a light or glow stick adjusted during the swim, I’ll do it myself. If I need more sunscreen or lube or desitin smeared on my face during a swim- I’ll do it. Throw me what I need and let me take care of myself.

Whether or not there is a rule out there that says it’s ok to be touched for safety reasons is irrelevant to me. I’m not going to even go close to it. I’d rather risk a jelly sting or a bad sunburn or chaffing than to have someone question whether or not my swim was assisted. It doesn’t matter if there’s a rule that says I can draft- I’m not going to draft. I’m not going to follow a streamer. I think 99% of people here would agree with me on that point. It may seem weird to someone of you, but that’s how a lot of us feel. Regardless of what a “rule” says, our principles are pretty basic:

  1. Put on your regular textile training swim suit, latex or silicone cap, goggles, and ear plugs.
  2. Enter the water at point A and exit the water at point B.
  3. Don’t touch the boat or another person until you have exited at point B.


So, when someone says to me, “Who cares if I put some extra lanolin on your back for you. No one will know.” You know what my answer is? “ME. I will know. Don’t touch me.”

And at the end of the day, my integrity is all I have left. My integrity is what allows me to come on this forum, among peers, and allows them to respect me and for me to respect them. We’re all coming from the same place, the same understanding.

When someone comes and claims to be the greatest swimmer of them all or claims to have done something ultra incredible, but can’t back it up with a past relationship of trust or data, observer reports, GPS tracking, etc., well, I think it makes sense we’d get a little curious and start asking questions. It’s not just their integrity; it’s the integrity of our entire community.

Diana Nyad isn’t the first person to be questioned, and I doubt she’ll be the last. Thing is, until she understands the above sentiments, I don’t think there’s any point in us asking for more clarification. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. What else can we do?