By the rules that Diana Nyad and her own team set forth, we can declare her 2013 Cuba-Florida crossing invalid.

The missing manual. Jellyfish courtesy of Lynn Kubasek.

“I honored the rules,” Nyad told David Adams of Reuters a week after she completed her Cuba-Florida crossing (“Questions Linger….”).

But what rules did she honor?

“Trust me,” she said in a Facebook post, “this dream [is] too important to me to have any slight thing outside the fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport” (screenshot here and below).

We still have no idea what Nyad was talking about.

And she probably didn’t either—other than that she never intended to follow the “fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport.”

What’s more, she told Adams that “[r]ules for a crossing like hers were to be created by the first person to succeed….”

Or not—because she also told him:

[S]he was following “Florida Straits Rules” during her swim, written for her by [Steven] Munatones, a respected international swimming expert and former observer on three of Nyad’s previous failed attempts to swim the Florida Straits….

…Munatones said he would be distributing copies of the “rules of engagement” for the Florida Straits to the media and the swimming community.

In other words, Diana was creating the rules on the spot. Or Steven Munatones wrote them out ahead of time. Or maybe some combination of the two. Who knows!

Whatever it was, here we are over five years later, and those “rules of engagement” still haven’t materialized.

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Nyad may have gone out of her way to avoid the shackles of written rules,[1] but that doesn’t mean she never articulated a single one.

As a matter of fact, she and members of her team did articulate a single one. Proclaiming it multiple times during and after her crossing, she and her crew affirmed the cardinal rule of marathon swimming: No touching!

Below is a chronological list of the times they claimed to be abiding by the rule, as well as the times Diana conceded that she broke it.

One thing, though, before we get to the list. If you’re familiar with Diana’s oeuvre, you may have noticed a pattern: When she desperately wants to be #1—say, the first person to complete an unassisted swim[2] across the Florida Strait or the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island—she lies to make it so. When she gets caught, she prevaricates, makes excuses, then grudgingly scooches over to make a bit of room for the facts. Finally, following a period that Diana deems acceptable—a few months for Manhattan, less than a week here—she chucks the truth overboard and returns to the lie.

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The List

Monday, 2 Sep 2013
As the end of her crossing approached, Nyad’s head handler and both of her observers stated that no one could touch Diana before she reached dry land:

…discussed landing protocol and need for her to exit water without being touched, according to email received from
Steve.[3] (Roger McVeigh’s observer report)

[Operations chief] John Berry reminds everyone to make sure Diana is not touched until she is out of the water and Bonnie will be the first person to touch her. (Janet Hinkle’s observer report)

“Nobody can touch her until she’s out of the water” (Bonnie Stoll).

Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013
If McVeigh, Hinkle, and Stoll left any doubts about the rules, Nyad decimated them (the doubts, not the crew members) in her post-swim press conference:

“It was very important that no one touch me ’cause you’re disqualified.
After ALL that, somebody comes up and hugs you and says, ‘great job.’ DONE!”

Friday, 6 Sep 2013
After other marathon swimmers raised questions about her crossing, Nyad reiterated her innocence:

“I never of course touched a boat or another person” (screenshot of Facebook post).

(The above post began a flurry of four that later disappeared. Thankfully, some followers of the discussion had noticed Nyad’s tendency to lean on the delete key. Thanks to them,  a screenshot of all four messages—and a  transcription— survived the purge.)

Tuesday, 10 Sep 2013
During a stop on her post-crossing tour de talk shows, Nyad told Ellen Degeneres:

“…but you can never touch the boat or get out on the boat or touch
any other person. So you are in the sea on your own.”

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But the next day, in a conference call staged by Steven Munatones, with Diana’s “peers” playing inquisitors, she finally told the truth.

Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013

“[No] handlers grabbing my ankles. I was on my own steam entirely.
But I was touched. I agree with it” (CNN, 11 Sep 2013). Also see the
Miami Herald, 17 Sep 2013:  “I was touched, but there was no aid….”

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A few days after the conference call, Nyad backslid:

Monday, 16 Sep 2013

“I go with the shark divers. They’re never allowed to touch me. Ever!
…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.”
(Tavis Smiley)

Thursday, 26 Sep 2013
In an article Nyad wrote for the Huffington Post, she reiterates the no-touch rule:

“My Teammates…formed a wall for me there, enforcing the sport’s rules that the swimmer is not touched until completely beyond the sea….” (“Cuba: 3 Weeks Later”)

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Two years later, Nyad reiterated her reverence for the “fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport.” This time she did it in her memoir, Find a Way:

Oct 2015: 

“…My Team has jumped off the boats in advance, and they now form two human walls, to make sure nobody touches me with even an innocent brush of a shoulder or a finger until I am, as the rule states, “where no more sea water lies beyond….”

“…now I’m walking, slowly but surely. I know some of the faces left and right. Teammates and friends, arms locked, legs braced hard, yelling, “DON’T TOUCH HER! STAY BACK! SHE’LL BE DISQUALIFIED IF ANYBODY TOUCHES HER! STAY BACK!” (p. 272)

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Almost all of Nyad’s comments suggest that she had happily adhered to the rule and that no one had touched her between her leap into the sea off Havana and her slog out of it onto Smathers Beach 52 hours, 54 minutes, and 18.6 seconds later. “This swim was a noble quest,” she wrote,

…and a matter of indisputable ethics to each one of us. We sleep easily, consciences clear that I swam across fair and square, shore to shore. (Find a Way, p. 278)

But the no-touch rule only makes sense if it applies to the entire swim. Nyad’s dramatic slog onto the Florida sand, therefore, was just a performance. She and Steve knew that press and peers would be watching, so Diana cleaned up her act for the final scene.

Nyad’s selective application of the no-touching rule explains the disappearance of photos and video from the endeavor. Any visual evidence would likely reveal that her crew touched her more often than she lets on. Not to mention that we still lack definitive proof that Nyad swam the entire distance under her own power. Presumably, the missing film and images would prove things one way or the other.

Without those revelations, however, we still have enough evidence to make a determination on the validity of Nyad’s crossing.

During Diana Nyad’s 2013 Cuba-Florida attempt, she and her team declared a single rule, the cardinal rule of marathon swimming: touching means disqualification. She broke that rule throughout her attempt.

Therefore, in accordance with Diana Nyad’s own stated directives as well as those of her crew, we consider her 2013 Cuba-Florida swim invalid.

Disclaimer: The Florida Strait Swimming Federation is a product of the author’s imagination. It is as fictional as many of Diana Nyad’s claims about her life and her swimming career. Any resemblance of the FSSF to actual organizations past or present is purely coincidental.

Jellyfishes again courtesy of Lynn Kubasek.


  1. She never declared any rules before or after her four previous attempts. In 2012, a member of the marathon swimming community emailed her about setting guidelines for Florida Strait swims, Nyad claimed that she didn’t know about the message.    RETURN
  2. “Unassisted” has a precise meaning here: “Without artificial assistance to performance, other than the standard equipment of the sport,” such equipment being essentially a swimsuit, cap, and goggles. For more specifics, see “Standard Equipment of Marathon Swimming.” See also Steven Munatones’ response to the assisted vs. unassisted debate that arose after Nyad’s crossing.     RETURN
  3. “Steve” is presumably the ubiquitous Steven Munatones, Nyad’s advisor and erstwhile observer.     RETURN

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