An adventurer from Poland came to Alaska to complete his latest swimming challenge.
Leszek Nazieme swam the Yukon River from Eagle to Circle, completing the 158-mile swim in 4½ days.
Nazieme said his inspiration for his adventures came years ago on a stay in the Czech Republic where many adventurers considered swimming across large bodies of water to be a sporting challenge. Besides the thrill of competing and enduring the elements, he said he tries to create awareness in his native country to prevent deaths by drowning.
Accompanying him was a support team and a documentary filmmaker by canoe with food, camping gear and emergency equipment. Nazieme began his daily water trek around 8 a.m. and swam up to 12 hours a day with breaks for candy bars and one daily hot meal. He and the team camped in tents except for one night when they stayed in a public use cabin damaged by flood waters.
“We saw bear tracks but they did not eat me,” he joked in Polish during a phone interview. “I can’t imagine swimming when the waters are high.”
The Yukon waters contained silt and sediment from snow and glacial melting, but they offered little impediment, he said. His pace varied depending on water currents, but he tried to accomplish about 4.4 miles per hour. He said the water temperature was about 19 degrees Centigrade (66 degrees Fahrenheit) a little warmer than the 16 degrees he anticipated. He chose to swim the entire way wearing a cap and swimsuit.
“You had to swim briskly, or otherwise it was too cold,” he said. “Sometimes I had to do sprints to reach the shore.”
Nazieme’s greatest fear prior to starting his river trek was that he might get caught in whirlpools, but he managed to get from shore to shore unscathed. The whirlpools sometimes took an arm or leg and turned him, but otherwise he found them no major obstacle.
The swimmer trained near his home on the island of Wolin in northwest Poland, which contains many steep cliffs, abundant trails, and a bison preserve. To build endurance, he swam long stretches three times a day.
The feat was captured on video for a documentary planned for release in the spring of 2024. Tomasz Wozniczka, a leading camera operator in Poland, received funding from the Polish Film Institute. His assistant was Michał Zuberek
“I am the hero of this movie,” Nazieme said.
Other members of his team were paramedic Adrian Ucinski, who was there in the event a rescue was needed, and still photographer Piotr Sadurski.
Why did Nazieme choose to come to Alaska and the Yukon River?
“In Poland, I swam across the Vistula 1000 km (621 miles) and dreamed of a larger, legendary river,” he said. “And (the dream) came true.”
He said the Vistula through the city of Warsaw contained far more debris than the Yukon River. “Anyway, I was there to swim in it, not drink it,” he said, chuckling.
Nazieme and his team found the people of Eagle and Circle to be welcoming.
“We are impressed by the hospitality of Americans. It leaves very good memories,” Nazieme said.
Nazieme, 39, plans no adventures in the immediate future. He returned to Poland Friday to rejoin his wife, and the two plan to get busy to build their dream house.
Contact managing editor Hank Nuwer at Also contributing to this story was Gosia Wroblewska-Nuwer who conducted a telephone interview in Polish and English.

Leszek Nazieme swam the mighty Yukon

Leszek Nazieme