In the water with Big River Man, the world’s greatest athlete

This was my first time among Strel’s disciples and our Lake Powell baptisms lasted two hours daily, something along the lines of a half-marathon a day, three days in a row. A few tourists filled out our roster, swimming only small segments of the course, but four of us were there to, as my significant other put it, “drink Martin Strel’s Kool-Aid.” By my side were: “Harry Potter,” a very nervous British journalist in his twenties who bore an uncanny resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe; Beth, a Floridian who worked as a physical therapist for college swim teams years before taking up the sport; and Elias, a Montreal artist and self-styled man of the world who has gone with Strel on several tours in Europe and, frankly, aspires to be Martin Strel, a real stretch as he only does the breaststroke. The fellow with at least some of the genetic stuff to follow in Strel’s footsteps is his son Borut, who hopped into Lake Powell occasionally but focused on the logistics of the tour, as he does all his father’s affairs.

I’ll admit that, at times, my faith was tested and found wanting. The pasta that Strel prepared served its purpose in our exhaustion — tastelessly, I thought — yet Beth enthused about it like it came from a kitchen awarded three stars by Michelin. Strel sat disciples down to tell them their fortunes, using a Ouija-like device, something he brings out frequently to make daily plans, life decisions and bold predictions. I was amused by the fortune-telling at first but then realized later how seriously others took it; one woman’s eyes reddened when Strel told her that a boyfriend didn’t have good intentions.

Strel didn’t use the board to predict the weather before we ventured out onto the lake in the morning. He doesn’t see the need, because he believes he can determine the weather by the force of his will and the power of his mind. That it ever rains is simply him remembering the plants must be watered and rivers fed.

When you meet Strel for the first time, your instinct is to race to his aid and pry off the giant mollusk gnawing at his face. It is, however, not a shellfish but a magnificent mass of misshapen bone and cartilage that is his thrice-broken nose, which provides him a serviceable rudder. It sits approximately in the middle of a head as large as the Incredible Hulk’s when at its deepest green.

Beneath that you find a torso as shapely as a manatee. Strel stands five-feet-11 and has a curb weight of 240 pounds. Using the BMI scale, he’s clinically obese. He has hands as big as Zdeno Chara’s hockey gloves and the wingspan of a condor. His hairless torso is something like the hull of a barge. When he moves shirtless around the boat, you sometimes think you’re being watched and later realize all that’s staring at you are nipples that would choke weaning calves. His 34 per cent body fat is entirely strategic, keeping him buoyant and warm when he’s swimming in mid-winter waters almost icing over. He works hard to maintain his girth, his diet consisting of 75 per cent carbohydrates, eating a family-sized portion of pasta with meals the way an average guy would have a dinner roll.

This less-than-textbook body only makes the beauty of the great man’s stroke all the more remarkable. His elbow position, reach and pull are exercises in perfect physics, his imperfect physique notwithstanding. For Strelians, watching Strel travel through the water at alarming speed is like watching the NBA slam dunk contest won on a 360-windmill number performed by Jonah Hill in his early, funny period.

Originally published at

Post Author: HockeyHawk