Diana Nyad defends her 110-mile-swim in heated discussion with skeptics

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Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad defended her 110-mile swim Tuesday night on a conference call with a dozen members of the marathon swimming community. The 64-year-old swimmer said she completed her feat in a "squeaky clean"  fashion, and stood by her accomplishment even as critics questioned it.

Conference call participants asked repeated questions about Nyad's speed, specifically about why her pace quickened 27 hours into her trek. Critics asked whether Nyad temporarily climbed onto or held onto the boat that was accompanying her.

Nyad's navigator, John Bartlett, insisted that helpful currents were responsible for the bursts of speed. Bartlett cited his experience in crossing the Gulf Stream – the strong ocean current that runs between Cuba and Florida. He said Nyad's pacing was consistent.

Nyad was also taken to task for not following the traditional English Channel rules which prohibit masks or wetsuits.  

But Nyad cited her previous experience with the venomous box jellyfish – found in the waters between Florida and Cuba – as the reason for her mask, calling it "a literal life and death measure."

Marathon swimmer Michelle Macy was on Tuesday's phone call and brought up how much the sport has changed over the decades.

"I think, Diana, a lot of your innovations have brought questions for us to come together as a community to figure out what does this mean," she said.

Macy said there's some work they need to do as a swimming community to distinguish and identify which swims should be classified as "assisted" and which aren't.  For instance, using the help of a streamer; a piece of material that hangs off the escort boat and helps guide the swimmer through the water.

Although many swimmers would say this streamer counts as assistance, Nyad (who did use the help of one) said her opinion differs. She said anything that doesn't help with flotation or forward movement, shouldn't detract from the legitimacy of the swim. 

Skeptics also addressed a report from one of Nyad's doctors, that the swimmer went for more than seven hours without food or drink.

 "I find that an impossible thing that a person could swim all night long without eating or drinking water," said Barbara Held, citing first-hand experience of the very waters Nyad swam through.

Nyad responded by basically agreeing with Held and blaming the inaccuracy on misinformation.

"It's an erroneous misquote," said Nyad. 

She said the longest she went without food or drink was the first 90 minutes, when she was running on adrenaline and the substantial breakfast she had that morning. After that, Nyad said she stopped at least every 45 minutes for water or food.

Nyad and her team have pledged to continue to release more information about her swim, including original logs from the trip. 

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