In Medias Res
Starting with the rules laid down in my house when I was a child,
I have never much respected society’s expected standards….
When some television executive tells me
the story I’m working on has to have a linear structure and start
at the beginning, I revolt and take my case to the highest command,
arguing that to embark on this particular story in the middle and
work the early part in later hits the sublime emotion of it.
Ask Shakespeare about in medias res.
—Diana Nyad, Find a Way, p. 222
Diana Nyad is well into the second night of her fifth and final attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. She has made miraculous progress over the last two days, often moving at speeds more than double and sometimes triple her usual 1.5-2 miles per hour. At 9 p.m. on Sunday night, she’s chugging along at about three miles per hour—with the ostensible help of a strong current flowing northeast.
An hour later, members of her crew notice dark clouds and flashes of light in the south. Similar flashes heralded extreme weather the night before, but the storm moved off in a different direction.
Tonight they will not be so lucky. The sky darkens, the storm racing toward the flotilla. The wind whips up, reaching ten knots, then fifteen, then over twenty.
At around 11 pm, with Diana still going strong at about 3 miles per hour, fleet captain John Duke makes the call to invoke what the team calls “storm protocol” or “squall protocol.” Here’s how Diana describes it in an interview with Tavis Smiley:
NYAD: [A] big storm was coming—lightning all over the place—and we have a protocol. I go with the shark divers. They’re never allowed to touch me, ever.
But I go with them away from the boats that are gettin’ blown around—35 mile-an-hour winds—we just have lights and they have flares. We just tread water, and we just hang out, out in the open ocean…. They’re all around me but never touch me, because you’re never allowed to be held up or anything like that. We’re real careful about the rules.
So I’m out with them, all the boats are getting blown around, and when that was over—it turned out it was an hour and 20 minutes. I had no idea—I was [Smiley breaks in]…
SMILEY: You treaded water for an hour and 20 minutes?
NYAD: Yeah, and I was hanging on.… (31 Dec 2013; clip)
…which she does until the storm passes and she resumes her position near the boat. She then continues to advance at the same pace as she had progressed before the storm hit.
And what of her speed while treading water during the squall?
I can think of only three ways this could happen:
- Nyad got out on the boat.
- Nyad got towed by the boat.
- The current increased and decreased precisely enough to make up for the difference in speed between treading and swimming.
That last possibility is too far-fetched even for Diana, leaving us with options one and two.
If number one were true and Nyad got out on the boat during the storm (or at any other point during the swim), someone on her crew will have to come forward and tell the truth—like they eventually did in 2012. 
That leaves us with possibility #2: Diana got towed. Given that Nyad progressed at the same speed and in the same direction during the storm as she did before and after—and assuming that she was in the water—then she had to be attached to the boat.
Important note about who knew
Whatever ruse Nyad employed, only a minority of her team—perhaps eight or ten people—would have known about it.
John McCumber, one of Nyad’s kayakers, is an example of one who probably didn’t.
After the swim, McCumber wrote: “Diana actually progressed more than two miles in the time it took for the squall to pass.” In fact, the data shows that Nyad advanced more than twice that distance during the storm. Not to mention that those in on the plan would probably have remained silent about mid-storm progress.
So I accept that McCumber believed Nyad to be an honorable person when he, as “WoodKayaker,” commented in the Marathon Swimmers Forum:
There are some jerks on here that have said that Diana must have been towed. To those people, I say, F-U…. Why must so many people in this group want to pick apart every little thing? Take a look at yourselves… you are an embarrassment. Accept the FACT that she did this swim. Get a LIFE. (“110 miles, 53 hours…,” 5 Sep 2013)
Up next in part 2: How she (hypothetically) did it.
Then, in part 3, more evidence of collusion (between Diana Nyad and a boat).
Update, 12 April 2019: Order switch—
Up next in part 2: Evidence of collusion (between Diana Nyad and a boat).
Then, in part 3: How she (hypothetically) did it.
- Speed Calculations: I calculated Nyad’s speed by taking her GPS coordinates and plugging them into this Coordinate Distance Calculator. My results agree with those of others who used different methods. See “Investigation of Diana Nyad Cuba-Florida Swim Timeline.” One of Nyad’s team members had provided the data. See this post in the Marathon Swimmers Forum. [RETURN]
- Descriptions of the storm vary slightly depending on the source. For instance, during Nyad’s post-swim press conference, she says that the storm began at midnight. Others imply that it started around eleven. “Treader Shredder,” a video I made before finding most of the accounts below, uses midnight as the start time.
The version in this post draws from the following sources:
Ben Shepardson: “A Shark Diver Story : Cuba Swim with Diana Nyad”
Candace Hogan: “Update 11 pm September 1, 2013: Swim Time: 38:00.”
Diana Nyad: Find a Way, pp. 262-63; post-swim press conference (16:04); Tavis Smiley, 31 Dec 2013 (clip).
Don McCumber: “The Xtreme Dream: The role of kayaks in Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Key West,” Sea Kayaker Magazine, Dec. 2013.
FishMonster Magazine: “The Xtreme Dream Team: A Record Breaking Operation”
Roger McVeigh: observer log; “Diana Nyad: A Look Behind the Scenes.” [RETURN]
- Reporting issues on 2012 attempt
Early reports from Nyad’s team in 2012 said nothing about her time on a boat mid-swim. For instance, in blog posts covering Nyad’s first exit from the water, you’ll find no mention of her getting on a boat, just “waiting out the storm” or waiting “for the squall to blow over.” Only after the attempt did the public learn that “waiting out the storm” meant “spending hours aboard a boat.”
Despite Nyad’s claim that she wanted “full transparency that I was out,” the log of her sole observer, Steven Munatones, never surfaced. Much of what happened during the 2012 endeavor, therefore, remains a mystery.
“No matter what day, no matter what time—
you’ll you’ll never,
you’ll you’ll you’ll never,
you’ll you’ll never, you’ll never
you’ll you’ll you’ll never, out-swim the sublime.”
– fragment of “From the Sublime to the Ranunculus,” by Saul T. Waters
(“Sublime Lime Sub” from Lime Riot.)
Update 30 Mar 2022: Linked to archived version of “The Xtreme Dream Team: A Record Breaking Operation.” The original page no longer exists.