Let’s start with some clarification: I do not consider myself a marathon swim expert. I have a reasonable amount of experience in many different forms of swimming. I do love swimming. Any kind of swimming. I have been involved in swimming my entire life. I enjoy sharing my swim knowledge. I enjoy seeing people achieve their swim goals. I enjoy learning from other swimmers and coaches alike. Hearing about others swim experiences and different perspectives on swim technique and performance is part of the learning process. I don’t care if you swim in a costume, in a wetsuit, want to learn to swim, swim a mile on the ocean or conquer a channel or two. To me it’s all swimming and swimming is cool.
Last week ITV called me up for an ‘expert opinion’. I am not sure why they called me or how they got my number. I know there is a lot I do know and far more I don’t know. I’d prefer to share my opinion with those that care about the sport – the swimmers. The growth of open water swimming in the last 5 years has been terrific. It’s exciting. The number of global open water swim events of all kinds has exploded. There are currently four swimmers who have completed the amazing Oceans 7 and a number look soon to complete this epic swim challenge. Each week there are more and more swimmers completing their first ever open water challenge. All are amazing, remarkable achievements. Achievements that deserved to be celebrated. Recently Diana Nyad completed her Cuba to Florida swim. I was gob smacked. This was her 5th attempt. Such tenacity. Such drive. Truly impressive perhaps fanatical drive for her to put so much into such a swim. I don’t think many of us would go past two attempts, let alone three or four, certainly not five. Diana deserves to be recognised for this swim, it is truly remarkable. It has been fascinating following the post swim media after Diana’s swim. Diana clearly has a huge team in place and works hard at publicity. Not all the publicity following her swim has been complimentary (most was) however a number of swimmers have asked questions about specifics of the swim. When a person places themselves firmly in the public spotlight such as Diana Nyad you must be aware that you actions will be open to question, sometimes critical questions, just as much as you will receive compliments and praise. Surely in this day and age this would not come as a surprise to anyone?
I for one was a little curious after Diana completed her swim. There was a part of her blog that indicated she had not eaten for 8 hours, wow. Also following one of her previous attempts I believe I saw an online picture of her on her support boat taken during the swim. I understood she subsequently got back in and carried on. I have no problem with this however the media releases during the swim made no indication a rest (for whatever reason) was taking place. For these two reasons I needed to hear proof that Diana had actually swum this distance. I’m now very happy that she has – wow. Amazing. I read today in the Miami Herald that Diana will be claiming her swim as unassisted. In the same article it states that team members helped her put on her ‘stinger suit’ as well as helping to duct tape gloves and booties on wrists and ankles each evening during the swim. The article also quotes Diana as saying ‘I don’t want the record if they are going to call it assisted because that is the equivalent of swimming in fins or a shark cage’ . I would argue yes and no to this. What is the definition of ‘Assist’? ‘To give help or support to’ OR ‘The action of helping someone with a task’. Diana you are amazing, the swim is mind blowing. I don’t care about rules one iota but you definitely did have some help. Let me put it to you like this. My mum turns 70 next year. Let’s say she decides to swim Cuba to Florida … naked and with no support boat at all. I think I could accurately describe this as a naked unassisted swim. If Dianas swim is also listed as ‘unassisted’ any unassuming person would think the only difference between Diana’s swim and my mums is the lack of clothing. For Diana to complete this swim she required minimal help, but she did receive some help just the same. I think we are all very clear she did not wear fins nor did she swim in a shark cage. But I think it’s also important that we leave the ‘unassisted’ description clear for the person who swims it for the first time without receiving any direct assistance. To put it differently the assistance provided from a support boat is a grey area but for me it becomes black and white when support crew are physically touching you to help you with a task – you are receiving assistance. It does not need to about propelling you forward; assistance in direct form does reduce workload.
I don’t believe we need further governance or rules in open water swimming to make this clarification when common sense can easily allow us to make a distinction. Fair enough? Finally my hat is off and I am in awe of Diana’s amazing achievement. Well done.