Slovenian Martin Strel is something of a marathon swimming legend whose challenges remain impossible to others. He swam the entire length of the Amazon, Mississippi, Danube, Yangtze and a large portion of Paraná river in South America, solo. And as of now, he has five Guinness World Records under his belt for long-distance swimming. But he’s not finished yet.
Of all of his challenges, his biggest was without doubt, swimming 3,274 miles of the Amazon River from the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. For 66 consecutive days between February and April 2007, Strel was swimming through the murky, animal-infested water, under the hot equatorial sun and tough jungle environment. The Amazonia is by far not only the largest watershed, but also the largest river system in the world, occupying over six million square kilometers. Moreover, more than two-thirds of all the fresh water on Earth is in the Amazon Basin’s rivers, streams, and tributaries.
Training for long-distance swimming
For over 20 years Martin Strel has been a marathon swimmer under the slogan: Swimming for peace, friendship and clean water. He dedicated his historical Amazon swim to the protection of the rainforest. He believes the Amazonia is very important not just for South America but for the entire planet as well. We all need oxygen to live and Amazonia produces more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen.
Strel had visited the Amazon region three times before his epic long-distance swim, and perhaps unsurprisingly, most people had told him that he would die if he attempted it. Only the Yagua, an indigenous tribe in Peru, believed from the very beginning that he had the power and ability to do it.
“You need to be an ironman if you want to survive such a challenge,” Martin Strel says. “Swimming is not the only important thing, your health, mental strength and team around count a lot, too.”
Martin Strel’s preparations for the challenge took him three long and arduous years. He swam twice a day, doing hundreds of training swim sessions in a pool, sea, lake or river throughout the year, and then added some fitness training. But at the end of the day, as Strel says, being mentally strong is just as important. “In the Amazon, for instance, I am in the water 10 to 12 hours a day,” he says. “You’d think you need to empty your mind, but that will cause you to have hallucinations. In fact, I do the opposite. I have conversations with myself all the time. I talk and laugh, and in this way I hypnotize my body. It helps me ignore the pain.”
Putting his whole heart into swimming the Amazon from end to end
The end of the Amazon swim may have been the ultimate proof of the efficacy of Strel’s methods – he was hauled out of water with his blood pressure at heart attack levels and was whisked off to a hospital – but he insists he felt “right as rain” the next day, despite having lost over 44 lbs during the course of 66 day swim.
As he sits among his trophies, he’s planning his next move. He does not like to talk about his upcoming adventures much until they are confirmed and dates locked. Nowadays the long-distance swimmer lives most of the time in Arizona where he finds his peace from recollections of the time he swam the mighty Amazon River.
Interested in learning more about the man who swam the Amazon? Strel’s adventure was captured in award-winning documentary Big River Man, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and won Best Cinematography prize. Thinking about some long-distance or marathon swimming of your own? Martin and his son Borut now run a swimming adventure holiday company and you can swim with them at several locations, including Slovenian and Austrian Lakes, Croatian Islands, Montenegro Fjords and Lake Powell Canyons in Arizona.