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Some people mail checks in for the causes they care about. But Martin Strel, 52, shows his altruism by doing what he does best: marathon swimming.
On Feb. 1, the Slovenian native began the latest of his many nautical adventures, this time, to raise awareness for Alzheimer's disease by swimming the Amazon River. Strel took the plunge from Atalaya, Peru, and if he finishes, he will have covered 3,375 miles by the time he reaches the Atlantic Ocean at Belém, Brazil. His goal is to complete the journey on April 11.
Among the many challenges he'll face during these 70 days are flash floods, scorching sun, rare tropical diseases, hostile villagers, and deadly animals such as crocodiles, piranhas, and snakes. The Amazon Virtual Medical Team, made up of specialists from all over the world, is monitoring Strek's health during the journey—from cyberspace. Strel's other goal in swimming the Amazon is to promote “telemedicine” as a way to bring much-needed medical care to remote areas through the use of phone, Internet, and satellite technologies.
The medical team will also conduct research in areas along the Amazon in Brazil and Peru to determine the prevalence and incidence of Alzheimer's disease among indigenous people. In doing so, these scientists are addressing a striking imbalance in health care: Less than 10 percent of all population-based dementia research is directed toward the 66 percent or more of all people with dementia who live in developing countries.
Strel set Guinness World Records for swimming the length of the Danube River in Slovenia in 2000, the Mississippi in 2002, and the Yangtze River in China in 2004.
Will he or won't he make it? Track Strel's progress on amazonswim.com .