On May 7, “eco-mermaid” Merle Liivand broke her own world record for swimming with a single fin. She swam the distance of a full marathon in the rough waters of Biscayne Bay, Florida. She even picked trash out of the water as she swam.
Ms. Liivand was born in Estonia. As a child, she had health problems, and began swimming to help her lungs get stronger. She was soon taking part in open water swimming contests, sometimes even in icy water. In 2017 and 2019, she represented Estonia at the World Aquatics Championships.
Eleven years ago, Ms. Liivand moved to Miami, Florida, where she continued swimming in the ocean. In one training session, she nearly wound up swallowing some plastic that was floating in the sea.
That experience made her think of all the sea animals who faced similar pollution every day. She decided she wanted to work to make people more aware of plastic pollution, which she calls a “plastic pandemic“.
Thinking about sea creatures gave her the idea of swimming like one. She began swimming with a special single swimming fin attached to both of her feet. This rubbery “monofin” (‘mono’ means ‘one’) allows her to swim by kicking both of her legs together.
“Swimming with the monofin without using my arms is similar to how dolphins and marine animals swim,” says Ms. Liivand. She believes that swimming with a monofin “sends a bigger message”.
Ms. Liivand first set the world record for swimming with a monofin in 2019, when she swam 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) off the coast of California. In 2020, she broke the record again by swimming 12.8 miles (20.6 kilometers), this time in Miami, Florida.
Last year, she set a new Guinness World Record by swimming 18.6 miles (30 kilometers), again in Florida. Even though it took her 9 hours and 19 minutes to set that record, Ms. Liivand says she knew she could go farther.
So for the last year, Ms. Liivand has been getting up at 4 in the morning every day, putting on her monofin, and going swimming. To help improve her strength, she sometimes even towed other people in the water.
On May 7, Ms. Liivand broke the record once more, this time swimming the length of a full marathon (which is normally a running race). It took her 11 hours and 54 seconds to swim 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers).
The water was rough, and she ran into a few problems, but she didn’t stop. “I got stung by jellyfish,” she said, “And kept telling myself that it was not the time to cry.”
To keep her energy up, a friend followed her in a kayak and gave her food and water from time to time. Along the way, Ms. Liivand picked up all the trash she found and put it in the kayak. By the end of her marathon, the kayak held three bags full of trash.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “This isn’t just about a record. It’s about helping the community and the world.”
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