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  • Anette Frisch

"Who is the real predator?"

Aktualisiert: 21. Apr. 2022

Mayra Santos started swimming at the age of 36 and immediately discovered her passion for the ultra marathon discipline. This year, the Brazilian wants to set another record in her home Madeira. Mayra Santos is not an ambitious and unreachable wonder woman, but a highly sensitive, dedicated and committed athlete.

You see Mayra Santos in the water sending a kiss while swimming.
If you follow Mayra on Instagram you will see her very often with a gesture of love. © Mayra Santos

Mayra, we did this interview in the beginning of February. While I was editing our talk, the war started. I was not only unable to finish this blog article but also swimming. Does the war influence you as well?

Anette, I have to say: It does not influence my life or my swimming as such. Maybe it's because here in Madeira we are far away. That does mean that I am not emotionally involved. I am very sad about the deaths of innocent people because of greed and power. For swimming, you know best, it is very important to have a clear mind. Focus on the good things that have already happened to you and your body automatically will produce good feelings. And always remember that everything in life passes.

Back to our talk in February. I follow you on Instagram and I am thrilled by the joie de vivre reflecting in your photos. It's why I was really looking forward to our interview. Thank you for being part of it.

Thank you very much for the invitation and especially for helping me spread the word that it is never too late to discover our vocation.

In November 2020 you swam in a very small pool with a current for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. How did you come up with the idea?

In the middle of the lock-down Madeira closed the pools and even the access to the sea. I couldn't train but I needed to because I have a big goal. So I called a Swedish friend. She has a house with a swimming pool with a current. She lent me her pool without hesitation. I started training there until I found out on YouTube that a Spanish guy was breaking a record in a similar pool. So, as everything was closed and without any perspective I thought I would do the same. That's where the idea came from. Now I also have my own pool and can do my training and even think about a new record.

You started at 10am on 5 November and finished at 5:07pm on 6 November. That is 31 hours and 7 minutes. How did you feel mentally?

To swim upstream is definitely to overcome the boredom of swimming seeing the same tiles. It is really having the ability to keep a very strong mind in pursuit of a goal, and I have a very strong mind.

Mayra swimming in the sea. In the background you see the cliffs of Madeira.
The island of Madeira, home of the Brazilian. © Mayra Santos

Where does this strength come from?

It comes from the many battles that I have had to face during my life. I can say that they have served to strengthen me and make me the person that I am today. When I enter a challenge I think positive. I can even imagine myself finishing it without even starting.

I read you’ve only started swimming when you were 36. Is it true? It's true. I took up swimming when I was nine years old, but I was never a swimmer or participated in competitions. I was born and raised on the Brazilian countryside, the nearest sea was 180km away. I started working at 15 and became a mother at 19. I started my life very early and had no opportunity to be an athlete. But in 2015 at age of 36 I returned to the pool and when I swam in that wonderful sea of Madeira Island I fell in love and haven't stopped since.

You got into Ultra Marathon swimming very soon. How did you come to choose such a strenuous swimming discipline?

My first open water race was one month after I started swimming. I completed the 1.500m distance and became first in my class. From then on I started researching open water. My first training sessions were as short as 6km, then I realized that I was capable of doing long distances and started preparing myself for it. The hard part was not the training, the hard part was convincing myself that I was capable of doing a 42km crossing between Porto Santo to Ponta de São Lourenço. Only four men had managed to complete this crossing and the three women, who were experienced swimmers, could not complete it. So I thought I will do it.

The photo shows Mayra in the ocean, when won the race. She makes a victory sign with her fingers and sticks out her tongue.
As the first woman Mayra did the crossing between Porto Santo to Ponta de São Lourenço. © Pedro Vasconcelos

And you did!

Yes, in 2019 I became the first woman to swim this crossing.

This year you have planned five swims, with a total length of 370 kilometres.

I am training to do the around the island of Madeira later this year. This is 144 kilometres, no break, no neoprene, swimming for three days and two nights. This will also count for the Guinness record, which is currently 124 kilometres.

Have you ever swum in the dark?

Yes, I have done some night training. Not that long, but long enough to know that I am not afraid to swim in the dark. I have asked several times for challenges to swim at night, but no one here in Madeira has ever swum at night. So this is a battle I am facing right now with the captaincy to prove that I have the capacity to do this. If I am not allowed to do the around swim, I will have to swim challenges in other countries, such as the English Channel, Molokai Channel, etc.

Are you one of those swimmers who keep their eyes open?

Of course! I swim with my eyes wide open, observe everything around me, pick up trash like plastic and observe marine life. I am not afraid of sharks, whales, or any living aquatic creature. I have respect for nature and am aware that I do not belong there. If you have the opportunity to experience it you will see the peace and safety that the sea provides. I love to feel that. I enjoyed swimming with sharks even though I knew the rich ones. Contrary to what we think, we humans are responsible for the death of thousands of sharks because of greed. After all, who is the real predator?

The photo shows Mayras husband in a boat, accompanying her swim.
Always on her side: Her husband João Duarte. © Mayra Santos

Does swimming sometimes become a burden for you?

The more I swim, the more energy I have and the more I feel better and happier. Even though the training is very exhausting, I do it all for love. And I still don't get paid for this work. Even though I am currently an open water swimming guide, for tourists, triathletes or swimmers who come to visit the island and want company to swim safely. This company is SwimTogether and I get paid for this work but I can't make a living out of it. What guarantees my livelihood and that of my family is my work as a real estate agent. With swimming that I overcome my limits every day and it is with swimming that I discovered that I can go further, influencing people to go after their dreams, inspiring people all over the world.

Last question, for those who swim a lot: Do you have a good hair

care tip?

LOL. Yes, it is a lot of work, too. I carry two kinds of shampoo with me, three kinds of masks to alternate the days and keep my hair always hydrated. My curls are natural, but I am not a natural blonde, so I need to take even more care with my hair. You can be an athlete but you have to keep your beauty care up to date.

This photo shows Mayra Santos smiling while resting at rocks by the beach.
What's the world without empathic and optimistic women. © Mayra Santos
Mayra Santos, 42, has only started her open water swimmer career at the age of 36. She works as a real estate agent at a local agency in Madeira and also as a swim guide for SwimTogether For inspiration Mayra, who was born in Brasil, loves to watch and listen to movies and soundtracks such as The Pursuit of Happyness, I Can Only Imagine or Flashdance. You can follow this inspiring woman on Instagram @mayrasantosswimmer.


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