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Old Man RIVER
Lars Anderson
September 23, 2002
At age 47, and with Huck Finn in his heart, Slovenian Martin Strel became the first man to swim—yes, swim—the Mississippi
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September 23, 2002

Old Man River

At age 47, and with Huck Finn in his heart, Slovenian Martin Strel became the first man to swim—yes, swim—the Mississippi

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DAY 57
Strel wakes up in the morning, and the burning in his belly has magically disappeared. He surprises his kayakers by covering 21 miles before lunch. When he breaks for his noon meal, he eats a soup laden with pasta and vegetables and drinks two glasses of a Slovenian wine—just as he has during every lunch break on his journey. "My secret weapon," he jokes of the wine. "Then again, I must be drunk to swim the Mississippi." He swims another 19 miles after lunch.

DAY 64
Just north of New Orleans the Coast Guard warns the team to stay away from the right bank. An alligator has eaten a few small dogs, and its whereabouts are unknown. The gator never makes an appearance. Late in the day the kayakers hear Strel say under his breath as he swims, "The mighty Mississippi. Hah! Soon we shall see who is mighty."

DAY 68
It took two days longer than he had hoped, but at 11:32 a.m. Strel finishes his epic swim when he touches the large white sign in the middle of the river that reads 0, marking the point where the Mississippi disperses into the Gulf of Mexico. His son strips off his clothes and, in only his briefs, jumps into the water to give his dad a hug. "Tired," Strel says. "Very tired."

Two days later Strel is still tired. He has just returned to his midtown New York City hotel room after enjoying dinner with the president of Slovenia, and he's now telling the whole sprawling story of his swim. He has lost 40 pounds since he first entered the water, every muscle in his body aches, and his face is cut, swollen and sunburned—just what you'd expect from someone who has spent the past two months in the Mississippi.

"I think this was a good thing," he says, as he lies down on his bed. "Sixty-eight days is long time to swim. I am just so happy. So very happy. It was longest swim in history. Now I rest for six months."

He then smiles wonderfully and rolls over. Soon he will be asleep. Soon the bear will be in hibernation.

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