Beyond Limits: Mayra Santos Discusses Her Historic Porto Santo Swim

Beyond Limits: Mayra Santos Discusses Her Historic Porto Santo Swim

On December 11, 2023 starting at 7:00 am from Cais Velho on the Golden Island, Porto Santo, Mayra Santos began a historic swim and became the first person to swim around Porto Santo Island.

The Brazilian swimmer, who has lived in Madeira for 19 years, encountered a significant challenge during her swim due to an eye infection caused by her contact lenses reacting with seawater, which made the swim more difficult than expected. Despite the pain and muscle fatigue, Mayra persevered, finishing the swim under challenging conditions, including strong currents and overcast weather, especially on the southern coast, where she had expected easier conditions. Her achievement was celebrated by hundreds of spectators, and was a significant milestone in her career as she looks forward to her next big challenge of swimming around Madeira Island, a 144-kilometer endeavor that requires overcoming financial and bureaucratic hurdles.

Following her achievement, we sat down with Mayra to delve into her experience, the challenges she faced, and what lies ahead in her quest to push the boundaries of open water swimming.

Mayra, completing the swim around Porto Santo is a significant achievement. What motivated you to take on this particular challenge, and how does it align with your personal goals or values?

Mayra Santos: The swim around Porto Santo holds a special meaning for me because it’s my way of embracing Madeira and giving back everything this island has provided me since I started swimming 8 years ago. Each stroke is an expression of gratitude and a tribute to the wonderful environment that has welcomed and inspired me over the years.

As an ultramarathon swimmer, I am constantly seeking out new challenges that test my physical and mental endurance, and swimming around Porto Santo presented the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Ultimately, this swim aligns with my personal values of perseverance, determination, and a deep respect for the power of the ocean. It reinforces my belief in the importance of setting audacious goals and pursuing them with unwavering dedication, regardless of the obstacles that may arise along the way.

Can you walk us through your preparation process for such demanding swims? Additionally, what was the most unexpected challenge you faced during your swim around Porto Santo, and how did you overcome it?

Mayra Santos: I have been training rigorously for five years to prepare for swims and to challenge the record for the longest distance swum in the ocean without assistance. I train in adverse conditions to ensure that I am prepared to overcome any scenario I may encounter. In this case, my most unexpected challenge was dealing with severe eye pain caused by getting water in my eyes. I wear contact lenses to correct my nearsightedness (-7), and I developed an infection and multiple corneal ulcers due to persistently wearing the lenses. Therefore, managing this pain during the final moments of the swim was my greatest challenge.

You’ve achieved remarkable records in open water swimming. How important is the aspect of making pioneering swims to you?

Mayra Santos: Being a pioneer and defying what is deemed impossible is what drives me. Especially when people say, “that’s humanly impossible.” I may not have the financial resources for these types of challenges, but I possess the strength and an unwavering mindset to turn the impossible into possible.

Beyond the personal achievements, what kind of impact do you hope your swimming endeavors will have on others, particularly young athletes or women in sports?

Mayra Santos: “The mind deceives us,” I often say, and I believe I am living proof that when we pursue something with passion and work tirelessly for it, there are no limits for a determined mind. This applies to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or race. You can achieve far beyond what your mind tells you is possible.

How has the support from the open water swimming and Madiera community and beyond influenced your journey? Can you share a moment when community support was especially meaningful to you?

Mayra Santos: The support I’ve received from the open water swimming and Madeira community, and beyond, has been nothing short of life-changing. Growing up far from the sea in a small inland city in Brazil, I came to Madeira in search of a better life for my daughter when I was 24, with just a 5-year-old girl and no relatives or friends. I found in Madeira a warm and welcoming people who helped me through difficult times. At 36, I began swimming, and two years later, I started preparing for the 42km swim from Porto Santo to Madeira, known as the “Travessa” – a stretch of sea that struck fear into the hearts of locals who attempted to cross it in small boats. Only three male swimmers had managed to swim across it, but no woman had ever succeeded, despite several attempts.

When, with just four years of swimming experience at the age of 40, I ventured into the sea to begin the crossing, only my husband and I knew that I was prepared and determined to complete this challenge. And so it was; I conquered the “Travessa.” When I arrived at the Marina, there were hundreds of people waiting for me, and it was then that I promised myself that I would do everything I could for this wonderful island. My Madeira deserves it.

Looking ahead, what are the next big challenges you’re planning to undertake? Are there any dream swims or records you’re particularly eager to pursue?

Mayra Santos: Absolutely, without a doubt. I am determined to swim the longest distance in the open ocean. If there’s one person capable of accomplishing this feat, it’s me, and I just need to find the right location and support to make this dream a reality. I need a vast stretch of sea and financial assistance to cover the costs of the team, but I have the strength and physical capacity, and I will prove it.

Mayra, could you share with us the personal journey that led you to start swimming and what specifically drew you to the world of open water swimming? What continues to fuel your passion for this challenging and rewarding sport?

Mayra Santos: From a young age, I’ve been drawn to the water, but it wasn’t until later in life that I discovered my passion for swimming. Moving to Madeira in pursuit of a better life for my daughter opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Surrounded by the ocean, I felt an irresistible pull to dive in.

What drew me specifically to open water swimming was the sense of freedom and adventure it offered. Unlike swimming in a pool, where the boundaries are clearly defined, open water swimming presented a whole new set of challenges and possibilities. The vastness of the ocean, the unpredictability of the currents, and the raw beauty of nature all combined to create an experience unlike any other.

What continues to fuel my passion for this sport is the constant sense of discovery and the thrill of pushing my own limits. Every swim is a new adventure, and with each challenge I overcome, I become more deeply connected to the water and more inspired to keep pushing forward.

SwimMadeira, founded by myself, aims to share this passion for swimming and the beauty of Madeira’s coastline with others. Through SwimMadeira, we offer unique swimming experiences in some of the island’s most breathtaking locations. Our mission is to provide authentic swimming experiences for swimmers of all levels in unique natural settings, ensuring safety and unforgettable memories.

In essence, open water swimming has become not just a sport, but a way of life for me. It has taught me resilience, perseverance, and the importance of chasing after your dreams, no matter how daunting they may seem. And as long as there are new horizons to explore and new challenges to conquer, you’ll find me out there in the water, ready to dive in headfirst.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring swimmers or athletes who look up to you? How can they prepare for the challenges of open water swimming and maintain their passion for the sport?

Mayra Santos: Prepare thoroughly, respect the environment, set goals, stay adaptable, seek support, and enjoy the journey. These elements are essential for aspiring swimmers to navigate the challenges of open water swimming and maintain their passion for the sport.

Visit the Swim Madeira website for more information

WOWSA