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Amazon swimmer reaches final destination despite health trouble

For 65 days Slovenian long-distance swimmer Martin Strel braved dangerous currents, battled piranhas, crocodiles and exhaustion to become the first person to swim the entire length of the Amazon river. For more than two months the marathon man averaged 80 kilometers (52 miles) daily and despite suffering from nausea, dizziness, sunstroke and diarrhea he continued jumping into the water every morning. More than once his mission seemed to come to an early end but he persevered and didn’t succumb to inner temptation or his doctors advice. On Sunday he finished the last stage, formally completing his epic achievement four days ahead of schedule. Despite warnings from his medical staff he put on his wet suit one last time to swim the final kilometers even though on Friday he could hardly stand up and his team had to drag him out of the water. He reached his final destination, the Brazilian city of Belém, where thousands of admiring spectators were waiting for him. Again, the exhausted swimmer needed the help of his team who pulled him out. Apparently Martin’s blood pressure had reached a level that doctors feared a possible heart attack. Paramedics took care of him immediately, they “had trouble stabilizing him”, his website said.

After being whisked away by ambulance in the pandemonium of his triumphant arrival to Belem, Martin insisted he have his own personal doctors to take care of him. He is currently safe in a hotel room and doctors say his condition is stable but he will still need a few days of recovery and rest.

Martin Strel, nicknamed the “fish man”, began his endeavor in Atalaya, Peru on February 1st. With his arrival in Belém, located about 2400 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro, he broke his own world record in long-distance swimming for the fourth time: in 2000 he swam 3,004 km on the Danube river, then he mastered the 3,797 km Mississippi in 2001 and the 4,003km Yangtze in China in 2004.

For the Amazon he trained and prepared for almost two years and gained more than 20 kilos of weight. Supposedly he always brings a load of Slovenian wine – and drinks a bottle a day to stay in a good mood.

But this time he reached his upper limit, despite the “fuel”. “He’s hit point zero”, his son and project coordinator Borut Strel said. “The finish was the hardest part”, Strel said. “The closer I got to the end the less kilometers I swam because the waves from the Atlantic Ocean are pressing against the river’s stream. Sometimes I felt like I was pushed backwards.”

Within nine weeks the fish man lost twelve kilograms of weight. At times he was in such pain that his crew had to pull him out. “At one point they had to take me to a hospital for a heart examination. But everything was okay.” Cramps, infections, chronic insomnia – Strel kept on going.Besides piranhas, sharks and alligators, the marathon man was threatened by parasites like the inconspicuous freshwater fish Candirú.

The 2.5 centimeter long catfish has a reputation among the natives as the most feared fish in its waters, even over the piranha because it is attracted to urine or blood. If the bather is nude it will swim into an orifice (the anus or vagina, or even the penis—and deep into the urethra). It then erects its spine and begins to feed on the blood and body tissue just as it would from the gills of a fish.

Strel was wearing a wet suit and he was lucky. “I just think the animals have accepted me”, he said. “I swam with them for such a long time, they must now think I am one of them.”

Strel does not plan to set another record. “I will not swim the Nile”, he revealed. “Although it is longer it is just a little creek. The Amazon is much wider and mightier. And it has something else: grandeur.”