With swims of the Yangtze, Mississippi and Danube Rivers under his wetsuit, the Slovenian expedition swimmer decided he wanted to conquer a waterway no other human had tackled before: the Amazon River. Strel, then 52, took on the Amazon River in an epic 3,278-mile swim that started on Feb. 1, 2007 in Atalaya, Peru. He swam for 66 days in up to 100 feet of water, enduring second-degree burns from the sun that forced him to wear a pillowcase over his head with eye and mouth slits, as well as wasp stings, bird pecks and larvae that burrowed under his skin. He braved bull sharks, piranhas, crocodiles, stingrays and candiru, a fish known as the “vampire of the Amazon” that feeds on tissue and blood and is known to swim up a victim’s urethra. Strel left the water only to eat lunch — which always included red wine — and to sleep for a few hours each night. He finally emerged from the river on April 8 — Easter Day — in Belém, Brazil, earning the nickname Big River Man and adding another Guinness World Record to his list of accomplishments. Since Strel’s Amazon dip, he has swum the Colorado River’s Glen Canyon and part of New York’s Hudson River. He’s planning another expedition in 2013.
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