Diana Nyad and the Case of the Vanishing Video

To verify her 2013 Cuba-Florida crossing and protect herself from skeptics, why didn’t Diana Nyad film the entire 2013 attempt? Because she was protecting herself by NOT filming the crossing.

Members of Nyad’s crew filmed parts of the swim. Within a few months of her 2013 conquest, however, almost all video from the event disappeared.

For example:

If her swim were a loaf of bread, all we’d have left are the heels (Nyad jumping into the water and swimming away from Cuba, Nyad shuffling up onto a beach in Florida) and a few crumbs from the rest of the loaf.

You’ll find two or three of those crumbs—possibly from Don McCumber, the captain of Nyad’s kayak team—in the video below. For example, see the repeated clip at :50, 1:15, 3:10, and 4:15:

Mr. McCumber, one of Nyad’s most ardent supporters, gave his camera a workout during the swim:

I have GoPro video footage from the camera that I wore on my head while kayaking just a few feet away from her [Nyad]. I got footage of water breaks, feeding breaks, medical breaks, the application of anti-jellyfish creams, and the donning of the ZERO FLOTATION suit and mask that Diana would put on 1 hour before sunset, and take off 1 hour after sunrise. (Marathon Swimmers Forum, username Woodkayaker)

But it’s all gone.

Why? Probably because Nyad didn’t want a repeat of her 2012 cinematic troubles.

After her second attempt that year, it became clear from crew video that Nyad held onto the boat. That’s an obvious violation of any set of marathon swimming rules.

Nyad touches the boat during her 2012 Cuba-Florida attempt. Click image to view video.

Diana didn’t want to get caught cheating again. So, after the 2013 edition, Diana apparently did what she could to submerge any potentially incriminating footage.¹

But some bobbed up and made it to “The Other Shore,” Timothy Wheeler’s documentary about his aunt. The film debuted in March 2013 at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It also played at the Dallas International Film Festival in April of that year. It was prepped and ready to go, in other words, months before Diana’s triumph, almost as if Diana knew she’d finish.

And so, on  September 2, 2013, she did. Wheeler, who had filmed the entirety of some of his aunt’s previous attempts, skipped this one. But he materializes at Smathers Beach so that he could “massage that ending that I wanted” (49:25 in press conf. or transcript).

To my imagination, this swim has developed in the genre of the old Greek myth—grandeur and excellence lie at its core. I am truly a naiad of the sea. As Pheidippides ran the first marathon from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C., I shall swim the ultimate marathon to Marathon Key. (Other Shores, p. 174)

A week or so after the swim, “The Other Shore 2.0” (less the “2.0”) appears online. In November, it debuts on Showtime. With the new ending, Diana is no longer the quixotic kook of yore, tilting at waterwheels and spewing nonsense at the heavens. Now she’s the living embodiment of a mythological hero who faced off against Poseidon and won.

Given the turnaround time, though, our “naiad of the sea”(see quote above right) didn’t have time to vet the footage. In addition to the usual lies,² we have film of Nyad committing two of the deadly sins of marathon swimming: touching and being touched.

Having likely been handled throughout, all the touching concern at swim’s end was just melodramatic misdirection:

All of the above footage probably dates from previous attempts. But Nyad, after first claiming that the 2013 swim was different contact-wise…

We did not break one rule. I never of course touched a boat or another person. (6 Sept 2013, Facebook post since deleted but available here.)

…conceded a few days later that it wasn’t…

“I was touched. I agree with it.” (11 Sept 2013, “Diana Nyad fires back against questions raised over her Cuba-Florida swim,” CNN.)

<°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>    <°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>    <°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>

We’ve seen the touching performance of a pretend real swimmer. How about we look at the non-touching performance of a real pretend swimmer? With thanks to Iron Mike for the tip, here are Esther Williams and Fernando Lamas, et al., in the 1953 film, “Dangerous When Wet”:

<°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>    <°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>    <°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>

Bonus Footage: Coda Silence

Timothy Wheeler sat for an interview with Devin Pike at the aforementioned Dallas Film Festival. Pike asked Wheeler what drew him to make “The Other Shore.” Wheeler says it’s because he’s sort of an adventurer himself. He neglects to mention that Nyad’s his aunt.

NOTES

  1. “Cheating” implies the existence of stated rules, of which there were none for Nyad’s swim. In the absence of stated rules, we have to assume that she was following the generally accepted rules of the sport. Statements from Nyad and her crew after the swim betray, however, either a very porous understanding of marathon swimming rules or no understanding at all. [return]
  2. Round up the usual suspects:
    • “The only sort of world-class swim I had tried and failed at back in my twenties was going from Cuba to Florida.” (See “English Channel.”)
    • “I hadn’t swum for 31 years at all.” (See “No Escape.”)
    • “Fourteen years old—I was the best backstroker in the whole state of Florida.” (See “Nyad’s Lies.”)
    • etc. [return]

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