INTERVIEW WITH THE EXTREME AND SOLIDARY SWIMMER CARLOS PEÑA
Carlos Peña has always been an athlete, but in his beginnings, his was athletics. His move to extreme swimming was something improvised, in the summer of 1989, but since then he has made about sixty trips and has the OWR (Official World Record), which certifies that he has set the world record for the number of kilometers swam, in the modality of back in extreme swimming 4880,30 Kilometers in 2151 hours and 20 minutes, between the years 1989 to 2015.
With its solidarity journeys, it makes visible the work of associations that fight to improve the lives of people with different diseases.
QUESTION: Carlos, how do you start in this extreme swimming?
ANSWER: Sport has always been present in my life. In my youth I was part of the athletic section of the Tolosa Football Club. Mine was the middle bottom and the bottom, in fact, had very good marks in marathons and half marathons.
But in 1989 the legs start to hurt and that prevents me from training normally. The doctors tell me that there is nothing, but do not force, make a soft race to see how it evolved. But after several months I did not notice any improvement, so in the summer I decided to do something different. From night to morning I throw myself into the water and decide to swim across the Ebro from Logroño to Zaragoza.
Now, cold and with the passing of the years, I see that what we did was an authentic madness. At that time, I was not a very good swimmer, especially in the Ebro river. And to make matters worse, we decided to do it in winter, which is cold, in the water and outside; without counting that we did not have resources or any type of experience in adventures of this type.
And this is how my sporting career in extreme swimming began.
QUESTION: What is your training routine?
ANSWER: Due to my work as a bus driver, I have a changing work schedule, I do not have a fixed shift, so I usually train when I have a free space.
On holiday I try to do double or triple training session. Gym, MTB and swimming, either in river or in river, are my routines. And as the tests or crossings get closer, I increase the hours of preparation.
QUESTION: As you say, you do not dedicate yourself to this professionally ... Is it difficult to combine both tasks? Do you know in your work that you are dedicated to this? What do they tell you?
ANSWER: Indeed, as I said, I am a bus driver in the company Euskotren. Living in Ibarra and having the base in Elgoibar means one hour of daily displacement to go to work and another to return home. To that we must add the working day, which depends on the shift between 6 and 9 hours. So, it is difficult, but with willpower everything is achieved.
In my work both my colleagues and my bosses know my sports and solidarity. They encourage me a lot and they have never given me any trouble when requesting a day to make a trip. Although I want to emphasize that whenever I have asked for a free day they are from my vacations or from days of more than I have not taken, or I have accumulated. They have never given me days.
QUESTION: Your technique is also something peculiar. Why do you swim back?
ANSWER: It is true that the normal thing would have been to swim in front crawl style, but at the time I started neoprene suits they did not facilitate the movement, basically because they were designed for diving. To give two strokes in a row swimming to crawl was practically impossible. There we realized that the most comfortable way to swim, wearing one of these suits, was to swim back.
And that also has its danger and complication, because you swim without seeing what you can find along the journey inside a river. I still remember the first crossing, without experience, without knowing what we were going to find in the river, without support zodiac ... A madness. All the support was terrestrial, with mountain bikes and my father with a van.
So, in this way, I started in this style, which is what I have maintained during all my journeys.
QUESTION: But this technique also has its complications ...
ANSWER: In fact, of the four styles of swimming it is the slowest. In addition, the fact of swimming in a river adds more danger, since you must be very aware of the rapids, rocks, eddies, etc. You must be constantly observing the hydrography of the aquatic environment in which you are to avoid any accident. This is also the reason why I need a guide canoeist, who becomes my eyes, to guide me during the journey. In big lakes or reservoirs, the role of the canoeist is also very important since I do not have lateral references.
QUESTION: You talk about accompaniment by water. With what support team do you have?
ANSWER: The fixed team is my wife and I, and then people are added depending on the time of year and the place where the crossing takes place, which are generally friends of the area. Also, I have some friends from Córdoba who I would like to mention, Antonio Martínez and Eva Pulido, from Aventuras Límite, who accompany me on many of my adventures.
QUESTION: What is more important, physical or mental strength?
ANSWER: Both are very important, but in the balance the mental force must be extraordinary, and physics is understood.
QUESTION: Since you went to the water back in 1989 on that first six-stage journey from Logroño to Zaragoza, you have lived many more adventures. Which has been the most dangerous?
ANSWER: The truth is that staying with just one is difficult, since almost all have some danger and difficulty. But if I must name some, I would say that of the Neretva River, during the Balkan War; the one of the 927 kilometers of the Ebro river, where the difficulty is found in the rapids, the reservoirs ... Also, the crossing of the Dead Sea was complicated, the heat of the month of August, the high content of salt and the chemical products made it difficult for me.
I still remember the intense cold and strong currents of the Strait of Magellan, in Chile; the shortage of oxygen that I faced in Lake Titicaca, between Bolivia and Peru; or the heat and humidity of Lake Maracaibo, in Venezuela, an area where piracy is another danger.
QUESTION: Your journeys are solidary and with them you pretend to make certain causes visible. Do you get in touch with the entities or are they the ones who want to have you, given your trajectory?
ANSWER: I'm a little reluctant to say it, but we are the ones who get in touch with the entities. I think that with my solidarity trajectory maybe it should be those associations that will contact me. My actions are totally altruistic, and I only seek to give visibility and raise awareness about certain causes.
QUESTION: So, how do you choose what cause to make visible?
ANSWER: To support one or another cause, we consider if the topic is current, or if a friend or family member is affected. Once we have chosen we get in touch with the entity to propose to collaborate.
Sometimes we have to stress that I do not look for any remuneration, which is a totally altruistic act, because they are surprised.
QUESTION: You have been almost 30 years in the world of extreme swimming, do you notice the passage of time?
ANSWER: More than age what you notice is the combination of work and training. There are days when you end up very tired.
QUESTION: So, have you not thought about the withdrawal?
ANSWER: No, not at all. I am in a good shape and my trips help many people, and I do it during my vacations and days off. Although Yolanda, my wife, has told me that as in some of the next trips something does not go well or have significant physical problems this is over.
QUESTION: Of all the recognitions that you have received, which is the one that stands out?
ANSWER: Well, if I must highlight one, I would highlight the one that was awarded to me at the National Congress of CEAFA (Spanish Alzheimer's Confederation in Valladolid in 2015, with the personal congratulations of Queen Sofía, Honorary President.) It was very emotional.
And another of the recognitions that I have most proud of is the world record as extreme swimmer in back style that gave me the ORW (Official World Record), the American entity that awards world records.
QUESTION: Knowing for sure that you are already planning an adventure, right?
ANSWER: Yes, the truth is that yes. Although everything is in the preparation phase and we have nothing closed, I am already working on several projects.
QUESTION: Can you tell us something?
ANSWER: On June 10 we have proposed to raise awareness about the dangers behind the wheel and we want to swim for the association Stop Accidents of Euskadi.
On August 15, the cause that we will make visible in retinitis pigmentosa, in this case the association is DameTVision, whose president is the Basque rocker Ibon Casas. And the motto they have chosen for the campaign is "Turn off the light and swim!".