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Inspirational Stories

Martin Strel is the seemingly indestructible marathon swimmer whose record-breaking achievements have inspired audiences around the world. The Best You learns how he does it

Slovenian-born Martin Strel known as ‘Big River Man’ for good reason. He started in 1992 by swimming the 63-mile-long Krka River in Croatia in 28 hours. Then in 1997 he became the first person to swim from Africa to Europe. Three years later, Strel swam an eye-watering 1,866 miles of the Danube River in 58 days, setting a record for distance swimming.

Strel wasn’t done with that Guinness record. In 2002, he took on 2,360 miles of the Mississippi in 68 days; in 2004 he tackled 2,487 miles of the Yangtze in 51 days; and in 2007 he famously conquered 3,274 miles of the Amazon.

He might not look like a typical professional athlete, with a noticeable gut and a fondness for massive pasta meals and Slovenian wine, but Strel has always been a man looking for a big challenge. The Amazon proved to be one of his biggest trials, as he was attacked by piranhas, infected by tropical diseases and parasites, and lost much of his skin to blisters, leaving him so drained he could barely walk.

But still Strel wanted more, and he now plans to embark upon an attempt to swim around the world. ‘Big River Man’ insists that he swims primarily for ecological awareness, peace, and global friendship, and he says he’s not going to be finished any time soon.

Q: Is it your strength of mind that enables you to complete these swims?
A: Yes. 30 years ago, I wasn’t so strong as today. And today I’m not afraid … because I know the situations very well. You can have big waves, but if you have good boat, good support, you can survive this. To be mentally strong, you need a lot of experiences working with the right people, and I’ve been working with the right people for years. I think my body is still very fit.

Q: Tell us why your swim. Is it to raise awareness?
A: My target is just to raise much more awareness on this planet. I don’t know everything, but I know a lot – I think I am one of the people on this planet who really knows what’s going on with water today. My target is to see happy fish swimming in the water. I would like to talk to governments, mayors, finance people. They must change the laws all over the planet. People must be simply punished for [throwing things into the water]. People must pay huge penalties forever. Then people will start thinking about this, people can change their minds.

Q: Tell us about your planned swim around the world.
A: It’s almost 110 different countries. My target is to swim every day between 5 to 10 hours a day, sometimes 12—it depends on the conditions: weather, currents. My target is to swim between 15 and 30 miles per day. [It will be] a little less than one year and a half—450 days.

For more info visit www.martinstrel.com


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