THE HAGUE, Netherlands — On one of the hottest days of the Dutch summer, Olympic long-distance swimming champion Maarten van der Weijden completed a marathon swim Monday along the route of a famous Dutch speedskating race, to raise money for cancer research.
Van der Weijden finished the 195-kilometer (121-mile) swim through canals in the northern province of Friesland in just over three days, swimming slowly into the city of Leeuwarden Monday evening followed by a flotilla of boats and stand-up paddlers.
As he reached the finishing point, he stopped, punched the air then slowly and gingerly clambered up a ladder out of the water, supported by helpers because his legs were weak after his long swim.
"I did it!" an exhausted Van der Weijden said in images broadcast live on national television.
Van der Weijden has been a Dutch celebrity since winning the 10-kilometer open water swim at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after surviving leukemia, and has used his fame to raise millions for cancer research.
He completed the swim less than a year after having to give up his first attempt after 163 kilometers (101 miles) due to ill health.
This time, he stopped briefly for meals, quick naps and to have his face slathered in sunblock during his swim.
"Last year, I suffered. This year, I really enjoyed it," he said before being driven away in a golf buggy so that he could head to a hospital for a checkup.
Cheered on by thousands of supporters throughout the weekend, Van der Weijden had to endure chafing in his black and yellow wetsuit as he slowly swam through the 11 towns that make up the route of the speedskating race that is only staged in winters when ice covering canals is thick enough to hold thousands of skaters. The last race was in 1997.