“Swimming helps me to relax and is ideal for problem-solving.”

Water has always been his element, and as a free diver, swimmer or artist, Mario is constantly exploring this medium. In a break from preparations for his next big swim, the crossing from Corsica to Sardinia, he tells us all about his fascination for his sport and the oceans. (Pics: Mario Rott)

Tell us about your training routine.

At the moment, I’m preparing for my next big challenge, the crossing from Corsica to Sardinia. So I’m training more than I usually would. I’m really ambitious by nature, so I have to try to tone down my expectations for this competition. After all, at the age of 57, I can’t be focussing on best times anymore.

I swim nearly every day and only allow myself to rest for one or two days at most. My goal is to accomplish three to five kilometres in about one and a half to two hours every day. I train whenever I’ve got time to do so. Preferably at lunchtime, as the pool is less crowded then, so it’s the ideal time for me after a light breakfast.

I’m treating the upcoming event more as an adventure than a competition. Otherwise I’d have to train a lot harder, which I wouldn’t be able to fit into my day-to-day life. I’ll be swimming with 13 other athletes from all over the world. First we’ll train together in the North of Sardinia. On the last day, a boat will take us to Corsica and we’ll have to swim back to Sardinia. The distance is about 15 to 17 kilometres, depending on the current. Open water swimming can be tricky, because of the wind and the currents. So there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to finish the swim, despite all the training. The sea is always unpredictable and a lot more powerful than any athlete will ever be.

Favourite training place?

I love swimming in the ocean. It’s my element. I’ve just come back from a training camp in Istria, where I spent a week swimming in open water – my first time since the winter. It’s a massive difference from pool training, which can be a bit monotonous at times.

How did you get into swimming and your specific routine?

I started swimming at the age of 10 as part of lifeguarding, and water has always been my favourite element for any sports activity. During my studies I stopped swimming, but then, about 12 or 14 years ago, I took up free diving and got back into swimming as a way of extra training. Swimming is one of the healthiest and most effective workouts for strength and endurance.

I was living in Egypt at the time and spent almost every weekend by the Red Sea. Back then, the area was still untouched and stunningly beautiful. I first started with scuba diving and then a friend introduced me to free diving. I was curious whether I could dive to a depth of 10 meters. How would it feel? Of course, it felt amazing, though it was also a very exhausting and unfamiliar experience. For the next two years I just lived for free diving. I did every exam going, attended all sorts of competitions and even became an instructor. I kept up my swimming as it helped to open up the chest muscles. The more you’re able to open up your rib cage, the more air you can inhale, which is essential for free diving.

I’ve also been into yoga and meditation ever since I started free diving. Breathing techniques and meditation are good tools to help you become more focused, balanced and calm. Nowadays, I do yoga two or three times a week and I couldn’t imagine swimming without yoga. They’re the perfect combination. Apnoe divers meditate before a dive or competition, so yoga has had a massive influence on the sport. Being able to deliver your best performance at a specific moment is mostly a mental thing, so it’s very important to prepare your mind as well as your body.

What makes you do sports?

I want to feel my body. So I try to give everything and push myself to the limit whenever I go swimming. That’s what really makes a workout most effective, in my opinion. It should get more demanding every time if you want to make progress. The body adapts to the intensity of training. I just feel really good when I’ve completed a swim. You can’t really describe this feeling to anybody who’s not into sport, they just don’t understand.

What keeps you motivated to stick with your training and not give up?

I’m not that young anymore and there’s still a lot that I want to do. My motivation is to stay healthy and agile for the years to come. I still want to be able to climb a mountain at the age of 70. I can also see myself swimming in the sea for many more years ;-).

Thoughts before, during and after a training session?

Swimming allows the mind to ponder and helps you to relax. Its harmonious rhythm is ideal for problem-solving. A training session might not be the most effective if it is spent contemplating, but I gain something from every time I swim. Even a lousy session is a good workout ☺.

How does swimming influence your daily life?

Swimming has had a major effect on my life since I was a child. My uncle, Werner Moser, who was a well-known track athlete, was a big influence on me. As a teenager I tried swimming more competitively as I was very ambitious. Unfortunately I was never really successful due to my physique. At the age of 16 I was relatively small, and all my competitors were at least a head taller and had much broader shoulders. So I had to accept that I probably wasn’t going to come out on top.

Today, I don’t only swim regularly – I’ve also enrolled in a teacher-training course. I’m curious to learn more about workout plans, nutrition, and also legal stuff. I try to integrate what I learn into my own routine. I can see myself working as a swimming instructor in the future.

Would you say you are competitive, particularly in sport, but also in general?

No, not really. These days, I only take part in competitions to be able to swim certain routes, for example the Bosphorus in Istanbul or Hellespont. As long as I finish among the top third, I’m happy.

Is there anything positive or negative you would like to share?

I would like to encourage everybody to take up swimming and also to take swimming lessons. It’s a sport that’s all about technique.

The negative would definitely be the pollution of the seas, which I consider to be one of the biggest dangers for our planet. We don’t know how this problem will change our world. Because I spend a lot of time in the water, I’ve already seen some of the dramatic effects: beaches that were absolutely pristine 20 years ago are now full of plastic garbage. It’s not a regional problem, but a global one. The garbage that is dumped into the sea in Indonesia reappears in the Antarctic.

Animals and fish are dying because they mistake plastic for food. I don’t hold much hope that we as a society will be able to bring about the positive change that is desperately needed in the current political und social climate. The answer is not to watch this happen in silence but to be aware of the problem. I myself support organisations like “Sea Shepherd” and I truly admire everyone who dedicates him or herself to bringing about positive change.

What was your most memorable moment?

There have been so many: some of my favourite memories involve encounters with other living creatures while swimming in the sea. In Tanzania, for instance, I swam among hundreds of whale sharks, and I’ve encountered dolphins and even two more dangerous sharks. Luckily they didn’t come close – they were probably more frightened than I was 🙂 Most of the time I carry a little camera in my swimming trunks, so I’ve been lucky enough to record several of these moments for my art projects.

If you weren’t into sports, what would you be doing instead?

I don’t really see myself as a sportsman, more as an observer. Being a swimmer is the only way to experience the element of water in every respect. Water also forms the essence of my art as a photographer or as an illustrator. I’ve published a book called “A PHENOMENOLOGY OF WATER” and I’m already working on the next one.

In five key words: What are the best things about your training that you want to share with our readers?

The element of water itself, quietness, zero gravity and the patience the water has with me. And the benevolence it exhibits most of the time towards us humans.

Your favourite motivational quote?

Get to know your boundaries as a way to get to know yourself. Not in a competitive way – I just want to encourage everyone to get out and try new things they’ve never done before.

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