Mon 9 Apr, 2007 09:57 am
'Fish Man' completes his 3,200-mile Amazon swim
By David Langton
Published: 09 April 2007
At 3,272 miles, its length alone would be enough to challenge even the most ardent swimming enthusiast.
Throw into the mix schools of flesh eating piranhas, bloodsucking toothpick fish, giant anacondas and aggressive bull sharks and few would even consider dipping a little toe.
But Martin Strel is not called "The Fish Man" for nothing. He has just conquered one of nature's most spectacular and inhospitable waterways - the Amazon river.
Fighting delirium, exhaustion, diarrhoea, pirates, a host of razor toothed nasties and very wrinkly feet, the 52-year-old has swum the length of the world's second longest river.
This extraordinary achievement has seen him averaging about 50 miles a day since he set off from the river's Peruvian headwaters 65 days ago.
If his feat is confirmed by Guinness World Records, it will be the fourth time he has broken the world swimming distance record.
Mr Strel was still in the water yesterday afternoon when The Independent contacted his support boat in the Amazon basin via satellite phone. Although he has officially crossed the finish line, he decided to swim the six miles to the final town on the river, Belem, where celebrations where due to be held last night to mark his incredible achievement.
The project co-ordinator, Matthew Mohlte, said: "Martin is bearing up better than any of us would have imagined. To be frank we are all surprised he is able to walk under his own power at this point.
"He is running purely on adrenaline. For now he is just trying to get home, that's all he is concerned about at this point."
Giving an insight into how Mr Strel has coped with the challenge, Mr Mohlte revealed he slips into a Zen- like state while swimming where he focuses on memories of his life on dry land.
He said: "His mind goes to another place and stays there for hours. He goes into a trance state and when I blow a whistle from the boat he will come back out of it."
Despite his ability to deal with the mental rigours of such a challenge, his body has not been so lucky. Last week Mr Mohlte was given the grizzly task of removing Mr Strel's socks.
He said: "They are the ugliest feet I have ever seen in my life, they've got open weeping sores on them. I had to help take off his socks the other day, my hands were covered in this stinking slime afterwards. You cannot imagine the smell, its gut wrenching."
On Thursday evening he was pulled from the water for tests as he struggled with dizziness, vertigo, high blood pressure, diarrhoea, nausea and delirium. But despite having difficulty standing and being ordered not to swim by his doctor, he insisted on night swimming to finish the course.
Speaking last Thursday from his support boat, Mr Strel said: "The finish has been the toughest moment so far. I've been swimming fewer miles as I get closer to the end, the ocean's tides have a lot of influence on the river's currents, sometimes they are so strong I am pushed backwards."
He said he was lucky to escape encounters with the dreaded toothpick fish - otherwise known as the "vampire fish of Brazil" - which swims up the penis and into the urethra where it raises a spine and feeds on blood and tissue. Only surgery will remove it.
He added: "I think the animals have just accepted me. I have been swimming with them for such a long time that they must think I'm one of them now."
His support team, travelling in three boats and filming a documentary on his progress, carried buckets of fresh animal blood to pour into the water in order to distract potentially lethal predators. They also have armed guards on board in case of pirates.
This is Mr Strel's fourth river swim. In 2000 he covered Europe's 1,866-mile Danube. He broke that record two years later by swimming 2,360 miles down the Mississippi in the US. And in 2004 he set his third world record after swimming 2,487 miles along China's Yangtze.
Born in the former communist Yugoslavia, Mr Strel was a guitar student before becoming a professional marathon swimmer in 1978.
In 2001 he broke the world record for an uninterrupted swim, covering 313 miles in a time of 84 hours 10 minutes.
"As a young boy I was beaten a lot by my parents and schoolmasters," he once revealed. "This no doubt contributed greatly to my ability to ignore pain and endure."
This ought to scare the daylights out of Slappy Doo Hoo.---BBB