Martin Strel swims with a knife strapped to his right leg—in case he encounters sharks, "vampire" fish, and other deadly marine life in the world's wildest waters. Yesterday, the 60-year-old marathon swimmer from Phoenix announced the toughest feat of his life: a 10,000-mile around-the-world voyage on water to draw public attention to increasing aquatic pollution. "And for peace and love," Strel added in his native Slovenian. He aims to circle the globe in about 450 days, starting in Long Beach, Calif., on March 22 and passing through oceans, rivers, canals, and other bodies of water in more than 100 countries. He'll swim about five to 12 hours each day, depending on the weather and changing currents; an escort boat will offer emergency support and space for small breaks.
Since 2000, Strel has swum the entire length of five rivers—the piranha-infested Amazon, the Danube in Eastern Europe, China's Yangtze, the Parana in South America, and the Mississippi, earning him the nickname "Big River Man." On his South American swims, he watches out for the candiru, the "most dangerous fish on the planet" (it bores into every human cavity and grows by feeding on human flesh and blood); says piranhas "are OK"; and isn't freaked out by sharks, which he says leave him alone if he swims in the same direction as them and doesn't confront them. He's still finalizing details of his adventure, a multimillion-dollar jaunt that will once more include the Panama and Suez canals, the English Channel, and the Amazon, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Red Sea. Strel says he welcomes anyone who's interested to join him for stretches of the route. (Read more swimming stories.)