Iron Mike's Marathon Swims 

Wow! I’m popular.

14 September 2013 / by IronMike

Yep, you read that right, dear reader(s). I’m popular. Not like Matthew Caws, certainly. Those days are over. But, dagnabbit, I’ve got readers who are neither family nor other swimmers. Real, live, actual readers who don’t like me; who have a vehement reaction to my blog creations; who disagree with my opinions; who take the time to write me emotional comments filled with derision and presumption.

Technically, I think that means what I create is art, and thus I am an artist.

Specifically, the recent comments all surround my skepticism over Diana Nyad’s latest swim. For those readers who have been sleeping in a media-free cave for the last couple weeks, Nyad recently swam, assisted, from Cuba to Florida. In the 10 days since I last wrote about the swim, I’ve read hundreds of posts from marathon swimmers way more experienced than I, as well as posts from a few of Nyad’s crew (thank you, Chris!). Also included in my reading were posts by no-sh!t oceanographers and scientists exponentially smarter than I on things like currents and jet stream and, well, science. Bottom line: I can buy that Nyad caught an unbelievably lucky break when it comes to currents.

What I cannot agree with though is that what she did should be categorized as an unassisted swim. She wore a jellyfish-sting preventative suit, non-buoyant according to her and her team, which did not aid her forward progress. But what the suit did do is prevent any jellyfish stings, sunburn, perhaps even help her keep warm. Further, she could not put the suit on herself. She would have to float there, for a purported 12 minutes, while members of her team, in the water and on the boat, put the suit on her, and duct taped the ankles and wrists. She had additional team members in the water putting the jellyfish preventative maquillage on her face as well as sunscreen. All of this counts as assistance beyond the generally accepted support one is allowed when doing unassisted swims. (Generally accepted support includes things like being thrown feed bottles tied to a string from which the swimmer imbibes calories, or having a boat or kayak nearby for both safety and navigation.)

All of that support means that what she did was an assisted swim, which flies in the face of her team’s initial tweets and blog postings, announcing that she’d swum farther than anyone else. (Walter Poenisch and Susie Maroney would beg to differ). Add to this the blog post that initially made me skeptical, the now infamous 7.5 hour stretch on night two when she reportedly took in no nutrition or liquids, something that is highly improbable, no matter the fitness of the swimmer.

Condition Report
Monday September 2, 2013 at 715am. Swim Time: 46:15
reported by: Katie Leigh

Diana has gotten very cold, so the handlers were not stopping her to eat and drink overnight in the hopes that swimming would keep her warm. Additionally it was difficult to get her oriented to the boat and where to go in the dark.

Both doctors were aboard Voyager all night long to monitor Diana’s condition.

Diana’s Condition Report, First Light
Monday, 7:30 a.m., Swim time: 46:31

When the whistle blew for Diana’s first feeding stop since before midnight, it took her longer than normal to reach Voyager and Handlers Bonnie, Pauline and Lois Ann, who were positioned on the swim platform near the water’s edge.

And now, after scrutiny from her peers, the blog has changed with the addition of this entry:

First Feeding Since Storm
2:00am Monday September 2, 2013. Swim time: 41:00
Reported by: Candace Hogan

Voyager on VHF radio communicating to the flotilla 41 hours into the swim:

Diana came in for the first time since we’ve resumed formation, for a feeding. She knows where she is; she understands what’s going on. Almost 90 percent [coherent] she asked me specific questions.

Another boat responds: God speed, Diana.

If it were anyone else, any other marathon swimmer, with two independent observers on-board known to the community (unlike Hinkle and the variously spelled McVeigh/MacVeigh), I would have chalked this mix-up of blog entries to too many people, too confusing of a time. But Nyad already proved in the past that the truth has to be wrung out of her (in attempt four it wasn’t until the community questioned her claims that it was revealed she had spent many hours on a boat during a storm and not, as she originally reported, swum the entire time).

As I’ve said before, even assisted, what she did was incredible. 53 hours vertical. For the uninitiated, that’s rough. Just look at her coming up to the beach having trouble standing. That’s because all the blood from her head is rushing to her feet! She was the third to swim the distance assisted, and the first without a shark cage (although Poenisch’s was made out of chicken wire, which begs the question: what use would it have been against a hungry shark?).

[Last minute edit: For a more succinct overview of some of our concerns, please see Evan Morrison's excellent post here.]

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