New Orleans — Marathon swimmer Martin Strel has dodged whirlpools, tankers and a lightning bolt. On Saturday, he was 45 miles from completing his journey down the length of the Mississippi River.
Strel, 47, started his trip July 4, at the source of the river at Lake Itasca, Minn. On Saturday, he was about 2,300 miles downriver, 45 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
"He's really tired, but he's been swimming quite strong for a couple thousand miles," said David Hale, one of three kayakers who volunteered to accompany Strel on the trip.
Strel, of Slovenia, holds the current record for the longest swim: 1,860 miles on the Danube River. He also hold the record for the longest nonstop swim: 312 miles in 84 hours and 10 minutes.
He had planned to reach the Gulf on Saturday, the 10-year anniversary of the United States' recognition of Slovenia as an independent nation, but he was delayed by a lack of current and by heavy commercial traffic. He now expects to arrive Monday.
Strel mainly swims freestyle, usually 10 to 12 hours a day, and averages 30 miles daily. He occasionally does the backstroke in rough water or to talk with his guides, Hale said.
The trip has included frightening moments. North of Cape Girardeau, Mo., a lightning bolt struck the river about six feet from Strel.
A whirlpool nearly swallowed him up near Greenville, Miss.