He swam the Amazon: now for Midmar Mile

2012-02-04 00:00

SLOVENIA’S “Big River Man” believes he has done enough training for the aQuelle Midmar Mile — by swimming the Amazon.

“It took me 66 days to swim the 5 268 km of the river,” 57-year-old Martin Strel said of his adventure five years ago.

“Everyone said I was going to die, and I survived.

“I had escort boats that were prepared to pour blood into the river to distract piranhas.”

Having also conquered the Mississippi, Danube, Parana and Yangtze rivers, Strel is looking forward to the Midmar Mile.

“I love South Africa. I have been here a number of times now, but have never swum the Midmar Mile, which has a big name internationally,” he said.

“After swimming the Amazon, I am convinced that I have done enough training.”

It was the international hype around the Midmar Mile, the world’s largest open water swimming event, that convinced him to take part.

Strel said his love for swimming motivates him to take on challenges many may describe as crazy.

“Swimming is one of the best ways to keep healthy,” he said with a smile.

“There is no pressure on the joints and it is one of the few sports that you can have fun doing.”

However, pleasure is not Strel’s only motive.

He also swims for causes.

His Amazon swim, the toughest experience of his life, was to raise awareness of deforestation.

Strel took on the 2 888 km Danube river in 1995 at the end of the wars in Yugoslavia to raise awareness of the effect it had on surviving families.

The year after the September 11 attacks of 2001 he swam 3 885 km down the Mississippi to raise awareness of terrorism.

He said he swam China’s Yangtze (4 003 km) and South America’s Parana (3 998 km) because people said he would not be able to.

A documentary film about him, titled Big River Man, won accolades at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Although Strel has swum 20 042 km in some of the world’s major rivers, he has no immediate plans to tackle the Nile in ­Africa.

“Why must I swim the Nile?” he asked.

“I have already swum the longest river in the world [the Amazon].”

In fact, there is a debate about which of the two rivers is longest.

The Nile is said to be 250 km longer than the Amazon, although the length of the Nile itself is also disputable.

If its source is Lake Victoria, the Amazon would indeed be longer; if the rivers that flow into Lake Victoria are taken into account, Africa would indeed be home to the world’s longest river.

• jonathan.faurie@witness.co.za

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