Intrepid swimmer Neil Agius swam into the world's record books on Wednesday evening as he completed an epic non-stop swim from Linosa to Gozo, a record of 125.6km completed in just over 52 hours.
The anti-pollution activist was escorted by a small flotilla of boats as Gozo came into view in fast-gathering darkness and it was 10pm when he swam past the towering cliffs into Xlendi Bay amid a cacophony of boat horns, whistles, wild cheering and applause by supporters, friends and onlookers.
He staggered ashore into the arms of his girlfriend Lara, who had proposed to him right before departure from the Italian island on Monday evening and followed every minute of his swim from a boat.
A medical team checked him over in an ambulance as soon as he came ashore before a Champagne welcome.
The 35-year-old former Olympian beat the previous world record for the longest continuous, unassisted, current-neutral swim along a single-segment natural route in an ocean, sea or bay, which was set at 124.4km.
The original plan was for Agius to end his swim in Malta, but the course of the route had to be moved further north due to opposing currents.
"The sea was choppy all the way, the current was strong, the going was tough, we even had a small storm which had us worried for some 20 minutes," a member of his support team said.
Those who heaped praise for Agius's achievement included long-distance swimmer and triathlete Nicky Farrugia.
“Having known Neil since his years of training for the Olympics, I feel very proud to see how much he has achieved,” Farrugia told Times of Malta.
On 28 July 1985, Farrugia was the first person to have swam from Sicily to Malta, landing in Gozo after 30 hours and 17 minutes. Last year, Agius broke his record, after arriving in Balluta Bay in 28 hours, seven minutes, and 27 seconds.
Farrugia said that Agius is a ‘natural’.
“They say stars are made not born, and I believe he was gifted with the natural ability to do what he does. Apart from all the training he does, he is gifted. It makes me feel very proud to know there is another Maltese doing something I started years ago.”
This is one hell of a feat
Ultra-triathlete Fabio Spiteri said he could understand the ‘pain, fatigue and numbness’ Agius’ faced whilst doing his challenge.
“He has been going on for two days and two nights - after 24 hours your body is depleted of energy and from then on your mind is leading the way,” Spiteri said.
He himself is currently training to become the second person to ever cycle around the Sicilian coast in less than two days in September to raise funds for animal shelters.
“70 per cent of this challenge is your mind. He is definitely fatigued and has muscle soreness, but I know Neil is able to tolerate it, he will numb the pain and fatigue,” he said.
“What he is doing is out of this world-a very long swim over two days, no sleep, no touching the boat- this is one hell of a feat. The night with big fish, jellyfish and the cold - I think this challenge is completely out of this world.”
Raising awareness of plastics pollution of the seas
The record swim was held as part of a campaign to raise awareness of plastic waste in the sea. People were urged to support him by getting involved in the ‘Double the Wave’ challenge.
“If Neil can swim for two nights and two days, no stopping, no getting out of the water WE CAN ALL pick up six pieces of plastic and do a few reps of exercise,” his team said.
This can be done by:
• picking up six pieces of plastic;
• posting a video of yourself on social media doing six repetitions of your favourite exercise with the pieces of plastic in the video;
• Use #doublethewave and tag Wave Of Change Malta;
• Tag and nominate six people.