World distance swimming record holder Martin “Big River Man” Strel, 57, who swam through the Amazon, dodging snakes, piranhas and crocodiles, is in SA to partici-pate in the Midmar Mile next month.
In an exclusive interview with The Mercury, Strel said on Monday that this was his second trip to SA.
“I haven’t been to this country for 31 years” he said.
His previous trip was a holiday in Cape Town.
He is the only person to have swum the five great rivers: the Danube in Europe, the Mississippi in the US, the Paraná in Argentina, the Yangtze in China and the Amazon in South America.
The Slovenian, who lives in Arizona, has held successive Guinness World Records for swimming the greatest distance in the shortest time, for each river.
In 2000, he swam the Danube River (3 004km) in 58 days. In 2002, he swam the entire Mississippi River (3 797km) in 68 days. In 2003, he swam Argentina’s Paraná River (1 930km) in 24 days.
On June 10, 2004, Strel started swimming down the Yangtze River (4 003km). He reached Shanghai in 51 days on July 30, 2004, one day before planned.
He swam the Amazon River (5 268km) starting on February 1, 2007, finishing 66 days later, on April 7, 2007.
“The scars on my back are evidence of what I went through during the Amazon swim. The piranhas almost opened my back.
“The people in boats who were accompanying me had to pour buckets of blood into the water to quickly divert the fish when they came for me.
“I had to swim faster, but some of the fish had already bitten me by then.”
A normal day for Strel involves waking up in the morning and enjoying a two-hour “breakfast swim”.
“Swimming is my breakfast and I swim in the afternoon for one hour.”
Asked why he had decided to participate in next month’s Midmar Mile, he said: “It is one of the biggest swimming races. Swimmers from across the world will descend on KZN to participate.”
Strel accepts that he is not getting any younger.
“I do not know when I will retire or stop swimming because I want to swim for ever – for as long as my body can take it and I am healthy.”
His fascination and love of nature made the former guitar teacher start swimming in rivers and he hasn’t looked back. - The Mercury