One of the most fundamental rules of the sport is that swimmers cannot be touched, according to Evan Morrison, a corporate data analyst and marathon swimmer from San Francisco and leader of the forum marathonswimmers.org on which people initially expressed skepticism about portions of Nyad’s swim and questioned her during a Sept. 10 conference call.
Nyad acknowledged that she was touched when she put on her protective “stinger suit” at night and her handlers used duct tape to seal her gloves and booties at wrists and ankles.
“I’m holding my calf out of the water while they wrap the tape, and I don’t know how you do that by yourself unless you’re a member of Cirque de Soleil,” Nyad said. “I was touched, but there was no aid, and if anything it’s a cumbersome process that slows me down but the suit has been recognized as a lifesaving necessity by the sport.”
The “touching,” which Nyad sees as incidental contact, is an exception to the rules in the view of Morrison and other swimmers.
“I don’t believe Diana cheated,” Morrison said. “But when someone claims a specific record, it has meaning, it should be verified and it should be placed in the correct category, otherwise people make all sorts of claims. To remove the word ‘unassisted’ would not negate one of the greatest endurance feats in history.”
Nyad and marathon swimming authority Steven Munatones argue that different local rules exist according to the geography of different swims — such as the English Channel or Santa Barbara Channel or Cook Strait — and that her pioneering use of a “stinger suit” and any non-buoying contact in fastening or unfastening it should be allowed in Cuba-Florida swims.
“I don’t want the record if they’re going to call it assisted because that’s the equivalent of fins or shark cage,” Nyad said. “I would like it to be official for posterity’s sake, and I’ve already received apologies from swimmers about the quibbling and maliciousness of this debate, and I’m confident we’ll be reasonable.”
Said Munatones, chief of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame: "When Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest, there was no official record because he was the first to do it. Diana's swim was also off-the-grid, with no organization regulating it. The classification of her record may not be resolved."
Nyad vows to spread the message she delivered in slurred speech as she stood unsteadily on the beach Sept. 2: Never give up, you’re never too old to pursue your dreams, and trust in a team to reach your goals.
Nyad, ebullient as ever, did the talk show circuit and signed with Creative Artists Agency last week; her already busy speaking engagement calendar is filling up. A documentary about her by her nephew, “The Other Shore,” comes out later this month. She plans to write another memoir. She’d like to create a one-woman Broadway show. She’ll be grand marshal of Key West’s Fantasy Fest in October, after she completes a 48-hour swim in a 40-yard portable pool in New York City’s Herald Square to raise money for Superstorm Sandy victims. Oh, and her one “shallow wish”? To compete on Dancing With the Stars.