On March 1, Dutchman Maarten van der Weijden climbed into a swimming pool in Oosterhout, wearing special swim goggles fitted with lights to combat drowsiness, and when he climbed out the next day, he’d put 102.8km (63.87 miles) behind him. That’s the farthest anyone has ever swum in 24 hours. It beats a mark that had stood for almost thirty years. Van der Weijden averaged 1.24 km/hr. All in all a pretty impressive feat – not least as a triumph of grit over boredom.
But here’s what you need to know about Maarten van der Weijden: His Big Swimming Day on March 1 is nowhere close to the most remarkable thing about him. He is the new Lance Armstrong, if Lance Armstrong was clean.
A swimming prodigy as a boy, van der Weijden grew into a long-armed freestyler and seven-time Dutch national champion while still in his teens. Then in 2001, at 20, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Through multiple rounds of chemo and stem-cell transplants he beat back the cancer. A year later he returned to swimming. He won the Dutch national championships again. But now he had a new mission. Not winning the Olympics (although he would do that, taking gold in the 10km open-water swim in Beijing in 2008), but rather using his profile to raise money for charity. He swam across the largest lake in the Netherlands in a record four hours and twenty seconds. And then he got ambitious.
A week ago he stepped into a Dutch canal. He aimed to swim the entire track of the Elfstedentocht, a 200km race route famously plied by speedskaters. He said aside a weekend to do it.
But on Monday – with 163 km behind him and but 37 to go — he was faltering badly, and his doctor called a halt. He was pulled from the water and taken to hospital, where he made a full recovery, though not before being mistaken for a six-foot-seven inch prune.
Van der Weijden had hoped to raise 11,000 Euros for cancer research. He raised two and a half million.