Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Incredible Endeavours: Martin Strel

(Written for MSN's In Search of Incredible with ASUS/Intel website, originally published here.)

Long-distance swimmer Martin Strel likes a challenge, taking the likes of the Amazon River in his stride…

Martin Strel has stunned people around the world with his feats of endurance in long-distance swimming. The 57-year-old Slovenian has claimed a succession of Guinness World Records for swimming the lengths of the Danube River, the Mississippi River, the Yangtze River, and the Amazon.

His epic 66 day, 3,300 mile swim of the Amazon was documented in the award-winning film Big River Man, securing Strel’s notoriety as an unconventional athlete – known as much for his hard drinking as his incredible physical achievements.

In Search Of Incredible spoke to the fearless swimmer as he prepares for his next big swim.

How did you get into long-distance swimming?
When I was young I swam up and down many times and people didn’t understand me. I swam non-stop, sometimes for 10km, even though I was very young. It was very hard for people to swim with me, I was pretty fast already. Maybe I was born like this, who knows.

What motivates you when swimming?
When I started, I swam in competitions for money, so a better position was better for your pocket. Then a little later, when I started to swim long rivers, I kept surprising myself. At first, swimming for 55 hours non-stop was almost impossible. Now I can swim maybe 100 hours.

In the Mississippi I swam for the people that died on September 11th, 2001. I told myself I simply have to swim, even though I was tired. In the Amazon, it was everything that was happening in this beautiful, precious part of the world – I heard a lot of terrible news about people simply destroying forests there. So I said, okay, I’m going to swim the Amazon because this planet must understand what’s going on.

How do you prepare yourself for a long river swim?
Physically I must be strong, so I train twice a day in the swimming pool, in the ocean, rivers, lakes. Then as well as cross-country skiing, I’m doing a lot of hiking. Then your health is very important, you have to be very strong, a very tough guy. I’m never sick. That’s part of why I’m doing this successfully. And there’s also mental preparation. My son is with me, that’s very important. He works on the logistics. It couldn’t happen without him. That would be a huge problem for me.

On the ship’s crew, the cook is very important – what to eat, what to drink, you have to know all that before you start. Then you have to organise the media. And when you start, don’t give up. Now it’s time to show the world who you are.

Which swim has been the most challenging?
The Amazon swim was extremely hard and risky. I risked my life, it was 50/50. On the Yangtze, every day was a lucky day for me. We passed many rapids, and there was lots of pollution. On the Mississippi there was the danger of lightning. I’ve seen many deadly situations. But the Amazon was definitely the most challenging.

What river would you like to swim next?
It’s in my head to do the Grand Canyon next year. I’m still trying to find one sponsor. I’ve swam parts of the Canyon for TV shows this year, I know it pretty well. It’s beautiful. It’s very risky as it’s extremely cold water and there are many rapids, but people could follow it on the internet and TV and I think it could be a great story.

What do you love about swimming?
Swimming makes me healthy, swimming gives me power. You get to see beautiful nature and you can get a connection with animals. Also, I want to raise awareness about drinking water because clean water is very important for future generations.

Will you retire in the future and do something different?
I’m 57 and would like to swim until the end of my life. Even if you’re 100-years-old you can still swim. I might not be able to go cross-country skiing, or play basketball, but you can swim forever.