WOWSA Advisory Board's Decision on Diana Nyad’s 2013 Cuba to Florida Swim

WOWSA Advisory Board’s Decision on Diana Nyad’s 2013 Cuba to Florida Swim

World Open Water Swimming Association Advisory Board’s Decision on Diana Nyad’s 2013 Cuba to Florida Swim

Official Statement on the Denial of Ratification for Diana Nyad’s Swim

San Francisco, CA (WOWSA) September 11, 2023 – In August 2013, Diana Nyad undertook her 5th attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. This endeavor took place after similar Cuba-to-Florida crossings by Walter Poenisch (utilizing a shark cage, with snorkel and fins) and Susan Maroney (utilizing a shark cage, without snorkel and fins).

Following the Diana Nyad crossing, a number of controversies related to the swim were raised and shared publicly by experienced open water swimmers. Some of the controversies can be summarized as follows:

  1. The failure to have in place, prior to the attempt, established rules and standards for the ratification of the swim.
  2. The decision to depart from established rules and standards traditionally followed in English Channel crossings.
  3. The decision to declare a record after the swim without formal ratification of the swim.
  4. The suggestion made, following the undertaking of the swim, that the swim had been completed in conformity with rules and procedures promulgated by an organization, Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association (FSOWSA), which did not formally exist at the time of the swim.

In 2013, Diana Nyad sought ratification of the Cuba-to-Florida swim from any organization that would review it.

On October 8, 2018, Nyad formally presented a request for ratification to The World Of Open Water Swimming (WOWSA) through a letter, without including any supporting documentation.

In 2022, in light of continuous appeals from the community, WOWSA published an in-depth report that retrieved, presented, and analyzed the historical data of Diana Nyad’s Cuba-to-Florida swim in 2013. It also explored the reasons behind the 9-year delay in the ratification process for the 2013 Cuba-Florida swim.

Following the report’s publication in August 2022, Nyad sought ratification again. WOWSA did not review the report for ratification due to lack of adherence to established rules and standards.

Overview

In light of the recent media attention stemming from the film adaptation of Diana Nyad’s memoir, many—including producers, reporters, community members, and Diana Nyad herself—inquired about the lack of official ratification for her Cuba to Florida swim in 2013.

Under the guidance of WOWSA’s new management, the WOWSA Advisory Board sought to address this matter directly, aiming to provide clarity and resolution rather than prolonging the uncertainty surrounding the swim.

Key Findings

The suggestion was made, following the undertaking of the swim, that the swim had been completed in conformity with rules and procedures promulgated by an organization, the Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association (FSOWSA), which did not formally exist at the time of the swim. Additionally, there were contradictory statements from crew members during critical hours when observer logs lacked entries for over 9 hours.

After careful consideration and review, members of the WOWSA Advisory Board have decided to deny the ratification of Diana Nyad’s record attempt for the swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.

September 9, 2023

Official Statement on the Denial of Ratification for Diana Nyad’s Swim

To Whom It May Concern,

The WOWSA Advisory Board reached a decision regarding Diana Nyad’s submission for ratification for the Cuba to Florida swim in 2013.

Our decision is rooted in the following considerations:

Integrity in Sport: At the heart of any sport lies its integrity. The rules and regulations established by ratifying bodies, no matter how large or small, are designed to ensure a level playing field for all participants. When these rules are ill-defined or ignored, intentionally or otherwise, it disrespects the achievements that are made under strict adherence to the rules. 

Precedent: This decision sets a standard for upcoming athletes and ratifying bodies. By not addressing the provision of ambiguous documents and the creation of an association lacking indicators of authenticity, we may inadvertently suggest that outcomes matter more than the means to achieve them. Such a stance could unintentionally prompt future athletes to stray from established norms, thinking their achievements might eclipse any irregularities.

Documentation and Procedural Failure: During our evaluation, we came across rules from an association whose existence at the time of the swim, or at any point, could not be verified. We found a document with rules that seemed to have been retroactively dated, and there were inconsistent statements from crew members. Observers who play a vital role in recording swim details and ensuring rule compliance, often holding more significance than GPS data, had missing entries for a span of over 9 hours.

In light of these factors, we’ve chosen to preserve the sport’s integrity by denying the ratification of the swim. We’ve issued a supplementary report that delves deeper into the matter and highlights various inconsistencies and findings, all of which have been publicly shared to ensure transparency.

Moving forward, to ensure the integrity of our sport and prevent such incidents in the future, we commit to the following actions:

  • Ensure rules are declared prior to any swim attempt.
  • Require strict adherence to established rules and standards in the course of any open water swim attempt.
  • Require documentation of adherence to established rules and standards in the course of any open water swim attempt.
  • Mandate strict pre-swim planning procedures for all record attempts.
  • Collaborate with the community to define clear criteria for legitimate associations in our sport.
  • Enhance support for those who share concerns or observations.
  • Offer training and ethical guidelines for officials, observers, and participants.

The following members of the WOWSA Advisory Board have reviewed the matter:

Rules & Regulations Committee

Quinn Fitzgerald (WOWSA CEO)
Julie Ridge (English Channel, First person to swim two laps around Manhattan)
Phyllis Quinn (Chair, Pacific Masters Swimming, USMS Long Distance Committee)
Anita Sood-Mankar (Elite Marathon Swimmer)
Cameron Bellamy (Oceans Seven)
Christopher Rushman (Coach, ASCA Life Member)
Dan Simonelli (Marathon Swimmer & Coach)
Edith van Dijk (Olympian, World Champion, IMSHOF Honor Swimmer)
Fergal Somerville (Original Triple Crown, Ice Swimmer)
Ger Kennedy (Ice Miler)
Hanna Bakuniak (Iron IceWoman)
Mark Hamilton (North Channel Swimming Association Founding Member)
Pat Gallant-Charette (IMSHOF Honor Swimmer)
Paul Georgescu (Marathon Swimmer, Ice Swimming World Champion)
Rohan More (Oceans Seven)
Sarah Wiseman (Coach, Ice Swimming Official)
Kate Steels (Ice Swimming Hall of Fame, Triple Crown)

Safety & Risk Management Committee

Jorge Pereira (Race Director, Swim Challenge Cascais)
Kathleen Wilson (Triple Crown, Founder Swim Around Charleston)
Jonty Warneken (Guinness World Record Holder)
Attila Mányoki (Oceans Seven, IMSHOF Honor Swimmer)
José Eduardo Ferreira (Guinness World Record Holder)

Coaching & Education Committee

Jacques Tuset (IMSHOF Honor Swimmer)
Shannon Keegan (Open Water Swimmer, Coach, Podcaster)
Jose Luis Larrosa (Ultramarathon Swimmer – Oceanman)
Bill McCracken (Race Director Del Valle Open Water Festival)
Mads Claussen (Elite Swim Coach & Mentor)
Glen Christiansen (Olympian)
Mohamed Marouf (IMSHOF Honor Swimmer)
Guila Muir (Coach, open water swimmer)

Communications & Outreach Committee 

David Rich (Marathon Swimmer with Olympic Club, Dolphin Club, Serpentine Swim Club)
Jaime Lomelin (IMSHOF Honor Swimmer)
Erika Gliebe (Round Trip Angel Island record, 2021 South End Rowing Club Swimmer of the Year)
Elaine Burrows Dillane (Original Triple Crown)
Aby Ortega (Triple Crown)
Lucas Rivet (Asociación Cruce a Nado Río de la Plata)

Environmental Committee 

Hans Henrik H. Heming (Ocean steward, long-distance swimmer, and economist)

Inclusion & Diversity Committee 

Christine Coppola (Triathlete, open water swimmer, HR executive)

About The World Open Water Swimming Association

World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) supports a global community of open water swimmers committed to safety, sportsmanship, and adventure. Our platform serves as a go-to resource for swimmers and coaches seeking events, community, and education.

Press Contact:

Quinn Fitzgerald
Phone: 925-219-2107
Email: contact@openwaterswimming.com
Website: www.openwaterswimming.com

Resources:

Supplementary Report on the Diana Nyad Cuba-Florida Swim (2013) Issues Index September 2023.

The Diana Nyad Cuba-Florida Swim 2013 Report August 2022.

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