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Diana Nyad during her Cuba to Florida successful shark cage free swim
Diana NyadRalph Teller

Diana Nyad completes First Cuba to Florida Swim with No Shark Cage - BUT Swim Community Questions Feat

by Ralph Teller

"Never, ever give up. You never are too old to chase your dreams.” Diana Nyad

Florida Strait crossing success on fifth attempt

September 2, 2013

Long-distance and marathon swimmer Diana Nyad completes the first swim from Cuba to Florida without using a shark cage swimming 110 miles (177 km) in 52:54 hours at the age of 64!

Swimming without a shark cage is much more difficult than swimming within a shark cage as a shark cage breaks the waves. The forward motion of a shark cage also creates a draft which enables the swimmer to advance using less energy.

Challenging Conditions. Nyad left Havana on Saturday to cross the Florida Straits, home to large schools of stinging box jellyfish, sharks, sudden storms, the strong Gulf Stream, and eddies which can trap a swimmer in a circular path. Sunday night, Nyad encountered a storm that brought winds of up to 23 knots causing bouts with nausea. However, after the storm passed, Nyad made good time for the rest of the first half of the swim, swimming about 51 strokes per minute. A favorable current helped her average about two miles per hour.

Hydration and Core Body Temperature. Water temperatures for the swim in the Florida Straits were in the mid 80's. Unlike distance swims in cold water which offer the swimmer the challenge of preventing a drop in normal core body temperature to avoid becoming hypothermic, distance swimming in warm water offers different challenges.

Swimming this long distance in warm water increases the risk of dehydration and a rising core body temperature, both of which can be harmful to health and impede the swimmer's ability to successfully complete the swim. However, with this type of distance, even in warm waters, hypothermia becomes a risk as glucose stores deplete. It was key to Diana's success to maintain good hydration and electrolyte balance during her swim. See Swimming Hydration and Electrolyte Strategies. Maintaining normal core body temperature is helped by managing pace and hydration.

Excessive exposure to the sun also causes dehydration. Exposure to the sun was a major challenge for Nyad. She arrived on the shores of Florida extremely sunburnt and was soon after her landing taken by ambulance to a hospital for dehydation, swelling, sunburn and as a precaution.

Fifth Attempt. This was Nyad's fifth attempt to successfully complete the Florida Strait swim. Her previous attempts where thwarted by box jellyfish, portuguese man-of-war jellyfish stings and bad lightening storms.

Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Florida Strait in 1997 with a shark cage. In 2012, Australian distance swimmer Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to stop. This June, young Chloe McCardel, also from Australia, made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid to be the first swimmer to swim the Strait without a shark cage.

Nyad's historic swim followed on the heals of the recent first Bering Strait Relay 134 km swim in cold water and wild sea conditions. See Bering Strait Relay Swim

BUT Swim Community Questions Feat

September 6, 2013

The swimming community through social media has raised serious questions about Nyad's swim. More details at: Swimmers Question Diana Nyad's Cuba-to-Florida Feat, National Geographic Daily News and Swimmers question Diana Nyad's Cuba-to-Florida Feat, ZemZa, the Independent Swim News Site.

The questions and objections raised include:

1. Swimsuit Rules Not Followed. Official standards have been established to follow the "English Channel Rules" that govern most swims ten miles or more. Accoridng to these rules, a swimmer can wear a 'Speedo' type swim suit, goggles and swim cap. A swimmer is not permitted to wear or use anything that will aid the swimmer's speed, buoyancy, heat retention or endurance. Nyad wore a protective suit to ward off jellyfish stings.

2. Drafting. Some swimmers in social media commented that Nyad, in following a streamer attached to a boat, was in essence drafting.

3. No Official Observer. Nyad swam without an outside, unbiased observer. Under English Channel Rules, a swimmer who wants to be recognized for a successful crossing, must have onboard an independent observer who marks the swimmer's progress, records their course, and ensures that all rules have been observed.

4. Actual Unfavorable Currents. On Facebook, a swimmer posted this image of actual currents of the Florida Straits during the time when Nyad was swimming. The poster notes that currents were strong and in a direction which would not have aided Nyad's swim. Based on the apparent less than favorable currents, swimmers have raised serious questions about whether Nyad could have swam that distance in the 'fast' stated time of 53 hours.

Florida Straits Currents during Nyad Swim

The bottom line . . . some in the swimming community seek more information to corraborate Nyad's swim.

Author's Note: I am of the opinion that anyone who dreams, attempts and then swims between Cuba and Florida deserves a world of credit. What, how and whether this swim is officially recognized is not for me to say.

More about Ralph Teller. See Ralph's 1Vigor Log Calendar.

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PublicationSwimmers Question Diana Nyad's Cuba-to-Florida Feat, National Geographic Daily News

PublicationSwimmers question Diana Nyad's Cuba-to-Florida Feat, ZemZa

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