For the uninitiated, Diana Nyad is the plucky 64-year-old with the can-do attitude. After five — count ’em, five — attempts to swim without a shark cage across the Gulf of Mexico from Cuba to Key West, Nyad realized her goal last week. She made the 110-mile swim, braving the elements and presumably punching her shark enemies in the face.
In light of what is still undoubtedly a remarkable display of endurance and a feat of sheer willpower, detractors have begun to cast doubt on the circumstances surrounding the historic swim.
In response, Nyad told the New York Times, “I’m an absolutely aboveboard person who never cheated on anything in my whole life,” Nyad said. “When someone does something they’ve been trying to do for a long time and you know how difficult it is, it’s only logical. I hope they’re not questioning if I’m an honest person. They want to know how the facts came down so they can understand it. They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honor the accurate information.”
At issue is the claim that Nyad went unassisted for a period of 53 hours while in the water. Independent news media did not document the swim in stark contrast to her previous four attempts. In addition, other marathon swimmers have flagged the decision not to continuously videotape the journey as suspicious.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the seeming inconsistency in Nyad’s speed. She swam at an average speed of about 1.7 miles per hour, but her critics say the swim was inconsistent, displayed in surges where she maxed out around 6 miles per hour for a sustained period. Some experts speculate she may have been on a boat during that period of time, but her crew and other supporters say she was never out of the water, and they claim the substantial increase in Nyad’s speed was largely due to the flow of the currents consistent with the time of day and her geographic location.
A full review of the data, including GPS data, marine information, written information and personal interviews will take place in the near future, presided over by a panel of experts, who will likely cast the deciding vote.
According to the New York Times, “Nyad’s fans have called the critics ‘haters’ who are jealous. Nyad has long been a lightning rod among swimmers who object to the publicity she seeks and the tactics she employs.”