Man plans to swim around the world
Martin Strel swims with a knife strapped to his right leg. It is in case he comes across sharks, "vampire" fish and other deadly marine life in the world's wildest waters.
The 60-year-old is a marathon swimmer. He has shared the hardest feat of his life. It is a 10,000-mile, around-the-world voyage on water. He wants to draw public attention to increasing aquatic pollution.
"And for peace and love," Strel added in his native Slovenian language.
He aims to circle the globe in about 450 days. He will start in Long Beach, California on March 22. He will pass through oceans, rivers, canals and other bodies of water. The swim will come over more than 100 countries.
He will swim about 5 to 12 hours each day. That depends on the weather and changing currents. An escort boat will be nearby. It will offer emergency help and space for small breaks.
But first, Strel took a demo 2.2-mile dip. He went for a swim in a choppy, rain-swept New York Harbor. It took him 63 minutes to swim from the Statue of Liberty to a marina near the World Trade Center.
On the eve of the 9/11 terror attack anniversary, still in his wet suit, he bowed his head for a moment of silence. It was in remembrance of those who died in the complex that is now rising again.
Strel has swum the entire length of five rivers since 2000. They included the piranha-infested Amazon, the Danube in Eastern Europe, China's Yangtze, the Parana in South America and the Mississippi.
Those daring forays have earned him the nickname "Big River Man."
He is a native of Slovenia. It is a small nation near Italy, Austria and Croatia. Strel now lives in Phoenix.
He is still finalizing details of his next big, multimillion-dollar adventure. It will include the Panama and Suez canals, the English Channel and the Amazon again. And the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Red Sea are part of the route.
Costs, including overnight rooms, plus food and other supplies, will largely be organized by an Arizona-based global marketing and branding firm. It is called TDG.
Strel will not be alone in the water. He says he welcomes anyone who is interested to join him for stretches. And that includes the president of Slovenia, Borut Pahor. Strel said the president was a fine swimmer. "We will all be discussing ecology. Like how to eliminate plastics from water."
How does he rate the Hudson River that flows past the World Trade Center?
"It is not especially clean. But it is not dangerous. Except for the boats, maybe," he said.
He compared it to what he called "the most dangerous fish on the planet." It is the tiny candiru in South America. The fish bores into every human cavity, from the mouth to the ears and nose. It grows by feeding on human flesh and blood.
By comparison, Strel said with a laugh, blood-thirsty piranhas "are OK." In his case, that was partially because those on the support boat poured buckets of blood into the Amazon. The blood was to draw the fish away. They had attacked him.
As for sharks, Strel said they have left him alone as long as he swam in the same direction. He does not confront them.
"I touch them and it's 'OK! I am your friend.'"