The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in the United States. It stretches across 2,350 miles (12,408,000 feet) and flows through ten American states. The Mississippi is also home to some of the weirdest creatures, dangerous alligators, and even a handful of venomous snakes. According to the National Park Service (NPS), “the average surface speed of the water is about 1.2 miles per hour – roughly one-half as fast as people walk.” In other areas, the river flows as fast as 3 miles per hour, discharging 593,003 cubic feet (16,792 cubic meters) of water every second into the Gulf of Mexico.
Considering these conditions alone, swimming the entire Mississippi River would be a herculean task for even the strongest swimmers. However, despite these odds, twenty years ago, in 2002, Martin Strel created a record by swimming the entire river. Here’s all you need to know about Martin Strel, the man who swam the entire Mississippi in 68 days.
Who Is Martin Strel?
Martin Strel is a Slovenian long-distance swimmer born October 1, 1954. He spent a huge part of his childhood swimming and began to swim competitively once he got into the university. Strel made the Guinness Book Of World Records for swimming the Mississippi River in 2002. What’s even more surprising is that he did it at the age of 48 and finished a month before his 49th birthday!
How Difficult Is It To Swim The Mississippi River?
Apart from its length and size, swimming the Mississippi River has many other dangers. For one, as we’ve mentioned, the river flows fast, and since the currents are also quick to change, swimmers do not have a chance to relax on the job. Another problem that swimmers face is the large ships. When Martin Strel swam the river, his crew followed and monitored him on boats.
As you might imagine, it would be exceedingly dangerous for a swimmer to swim in the same area a large ship was trying to pass. If the propellers do not get to the swimmer, waves, and even the ship itself could cause severe injuries. Consequently, his crew members radioed large ships to inform them of their presence. However, not all ships are on the same frequencies, so Martin Strel had to be watchful despite his crew’s presence.
In addition to these problems, the Mississippi is notorious for pollution. Some parts of the water smell so bad that it is impossible to swim through without gagging. And since every swimmer knows how possible it is to occasionally swallow water when you swim, we can imagine how difficult swimming through such polluted areas is.
One particular area that worried Strel and his crew was an area he would encounter towards the end of his swim in New Orleans. The area is named Cancer Alley but is mostly referred to as the dead zone. It stretches across 80 miles and is filled with chemicals, oils, alligators, and the worst of pollution.
How Did Martin Strel Swim The Mississippi In 68 Days?
It is important to note Martin Strel’s extensive experience, as well as his preparation. Many people who have swum all their lives wouldn’t be able to swim that distance. Strel swam with a boat crew, took a lunch break each day, and had a few hours of sleep each night on the boat. It was no easy feat.
By day 21, Strel was sunburned and sore, and his crew reported that he seemed unable to sleep longer than 4 hours at a stretch. However, he pushed through these odds and did his best to keep his head afloat while swimming through polluted areas like the Cancer Alley.
Why Did Martin Strel Swim The Mississippi?
As you might imagine, at the time of Martin Strel’s swim, a lot of people called him crazy. However, when questioned, he had very good answers. For one, he stated that it was about athleticism and keeping fit, and a few years later, he announced his intention to swim more than 24,000 miles around the world. His aim? To raise awareness of aquatic pollution.
We have no doubt that his swimming the Mississippi greatly influenced his decision on a matter that is still relevant today. The Mississippi River has worsened since Strel swam it in 2002. As of 2022, the American Rivers Organization named the Mississippi River the 6th most endangered river in America and listed pollution as the major threat.
What Other Rivers Did Martin Strel Swim?
Martin Strel, as you can imagine, didn’t stop at the Mississippi and had already swum a couple of smaller rivers before attempting the Mississippi. The first river he swam was the Krka River in Slovenia in 1992. The river was 65.24 miles (105 km), and he swam it in 28 hours. In 1993, he went on to swim the Kolpa River, which was 39 miles (62 km) in 16 hours.
In 2000, he swam the 1,780-mile Danube River (2,860 km). He also swam a distance of 1,867 miles (3,004 km) in 58 days and made the world long-distance swimming record. In 2001, one year before swimming the Mississippi, he swam 313.5 miles (504.5 km) in 84 hours and 10 minutes. He lost 40 pounds of weight but gained the world record for non-stop swimming.
After swimming the Mississippi, he swam the Argentine Paraná River, the Yangtze River, and the Amazon River. However, according to the Guardian, he has no intentions of swimming the Nile because it is “long but not challenging enough.” In his opinion, the Nile is no different from a small creek.
Where is Martin Strel Today?
Martin Strel founded a company with his son Borut Strel in 2010. Their company offers swimming adventure holidays at various destinations. They also offer swimming tours across different islands and have offices in the US and the UK. As of 2015, Strel had moved from his home in Slovenia to Phoenix, Arizona. This year, Martin Strel turns 68, and we have no doubt that he isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Milen Mkv/Shutterstock.com
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