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Jun 25, 2017
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Three to four hours.

That was supposedly how long it would take environmental lawyer Ingemar Macarine to finish his latest open water swim, a projected 12-kilometer course down south. The man they call "Pinoy Aquaman" has been doing this for a few years now, with numerous records under his belt. He braves the seas to advocate for marine conservation.

But he and his team this time ventured into deep waters for an entirely different reason. From Guinsiliban, Camiguin Island, he crossed the Macajalar Bay, until he reached the Balingoan town in Misamis Oriental. Complying with Marathon Swimming Federation rules, he plunged into the harbor unassisted and wearing only trunks.

All to promote peace in Mindanao.

"It's so sad to know that our fellow Filipinos are killing each other in Marawi," he tells FHM via email. "I just hope we can find a way to end the hostilities soon."

The southernmost island is understandably close to his heart, being a Surigaonon by birth. And with Mindanao being in a state of unrest, this Bohol-based triathlete and election officer knew he had to do something. That was when he planned the expedition on June 4, a day that was "supposed to have a favorable current because of a neap tide."

According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, a neap tide refers to a "period of moderate tides when the sun and moon are at right angles to each other," which means that "high tides are a little lower and low tides are a little higher than average." Marathon swimmers like Macarine take advantage of this phenomenon that occurs twice a month when it's easier to stay the course.

Or so he thought.

Departing at six in the morning, he arrived at the destination early afternoon, almost doubling his estimated time of arrival (seven hours and 47 minutes) and distance (23 kilometers). He didn't expect the strong current, which carried him away from the original landing point. The occasional waves and jellyfish only added to his struggles.

But, as always, Macarine—in the words of Dory—"just kept swimming" and beat the odds to achieve his goal. Those four Ironman finishes, countless swimming feats in and out of the country, and trophy case of civic accolades weren't for nothing. Once again, he proved that anyone can bring about social impact with enough motivation. And at a ripe age of 41, it looks like that there's no stopping the man.

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What was going through your mind when you were actually doing the swim?

Whenever I feel tired and find myself struggling during an open water swim, I just think and keep on repeating in my mind the Book of Psalm Chapter 23. "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want." That chapter empowers me to finish the swim all the time. It's very effective for me.

How did people react to your feat?

Most people find my swimming feat incredible and unbelievable. They always ask me how do I do it. I don't have any secret as to how I did all those swims. I just train consistently, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and condition my mind. 

Do you remember the first time you did this sort of thing?

My first open water swim was last December 30, 2013. I remember that day. There were four of us who wanted to cross the Surigao Channel by swimming four kilometers from Basul Island to Mainland Surigao City—a feat never been done before. The area is very deep and shark-infested that's why nobody has ever attempted to cross it before. Weather was perfect and the water was very calm and glassy that day. Little did we know that the current was very strong because it was a New Moon, the tide difference was big. My three other triathlete friends gave up after swimming for an hour. I was the only one who made it to the mainland after swimming nonstop for two hours.

When the swim attracted national media, I asked myself, "Why not promote marine conservation through solo channel swimming?" So this has been my campaign for the past four years. And hope to do charity swims for years to come to promote my advocacy.

What prompted you to swim for a cause?

Swimming for a cause, just like my 23-K Camiguin to Mainland Mindanao Swim for Peace, is my own little way of promoting peace in Mindanao, especially in Marawi City. I can't do anything about the war. It's totally out of my control. I just hope that my latest swim will help promote peace.

As for my lifetime advocacy for cleaner seas, I want future generations especially my kids, Lance and Colyn, to enjoy the pristine waters that I swam in during my childhood days. Most of those waters are under threat of pollution and trash now.

When you were younger, did you ever think that you'd be capable of doing something like this?

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I never thought I would be capable of doing something like this or would pioneer solo channel swimming in the Philippines. I just love the water because I grew up in the coastal towns of Malimono and Placer, Surigao del Norte. The sea was just a stone-throw away from our houses. My experience as a kid and teenager swimming and loving the sea perhaps emboldened me to overcome the fear of the deep and, of course, sharks.

How would you compare swimming for environmental awareness and doing the same thing for socio-political reasons?

As much as possible, I don't involve myself in socio-political causes. It's just so divisive. And as a Commission on Election (Comelec) lawyer, my mindset is neutrality. But the Marawi War is an exception. I was born and raised in Mindanao. I'm a Mindanaon by heart. I just want to do my share in promoting peace.

Differentiate bringing a particular issue before the court and taking it to the sea.

As a lawyer, I am an advocate for my clients' case or for causes whether or not I am in or outside the courtroom. The good thing about swimming for a cause is that I have a wider and bigger audience unlike when I am in the courtroom.

What other local topics are you willing to 'dive into' and advocate?

When I have a swim, I usually partner with local government units where I intend to swim. They usually provide escort boats, free food, and accommodation. In return, I promote local tourism by featuring their beautiful beaches during my swims. Doing a swim in a certain locality is not only time consuming, but also expensive to organize. Good thing there are a lot of LGUs willing to partner and sponsor most of my swims.

How much preparation (including mental conditioning) does a regular swim usually require?

I have a weekly pool swim mileage of 20 kilometers divided into four sessions. Besides that, I jog for an hour and do 500 sit-ups three times a week. For recovey, I sleep minimum of eight hours daily and have a massage two or three times a week. Of course, proper nutrition is also important. I'm a social drinker which means I only drink beer and only beer, a bottle or two a few times a month when the occasion demands it. Absolutely no smoking because I am asthmatic. For mental conditioning, I read the Bible, especially Psalms 23 before the swim. And keep on repeating that chapter in my mind during the swim.

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Are there any physical repercussions?

Swimming is the best exercise. I consider myself physically fit because of swimming. But the downside is that I have more asthma attacks, usually two or three times a year. I have been asthmatic since childhood. My doctor said maybe it's an exercise-induced asthma.

The ocean isn't exactly the safest place to be. What measures do you take to ensure that you get to do this again?

Safety first. That's priority No. 1 for me. I had to cancel several swims because of bad weather. During my 20-K Bantayan Island Swim in 2015, for example, one of the three escort boats capsized because of big waves. Good thing all six crew members were rescued and nobody was hurt. I took that lesson to heart. No more swims when the weather is not good.

My advice for wannabe open water swimmers is never to swim, especially in the deep without an escort boat. It's just too dangerous. No open water swimmer anywhere in the world has ever been attacked by a shark as long as there was an escort boat or kayak. I've been doing solo channel swims for the past four years and I have not encountered a shark. I'm more concerned of the jellyfishes, especially those found in the Philippines. Being stung by a box jellyfish (it happened in three of my swims) is an unforgettable experience.

Any words of wisdom for anyone who wants to try open water swimming?

Training, training, training. That's my open secret.

What do you want people to learn or know based on your actions?

I just hope that more Filipinos will be inspired to care more for the marine environment because of my charity swims.

What's next for the Pinoy Aquaman now that you've completed this particular journey?

My next challenge is to swim the 21-mile English Channel separating UK and France. This swim is considered the "Mount Everest" for open water swimmers like me. Channel Swimming Association rules dictate that the swimmer will have to brave the 15-degree Celsius water for 13 to 15 hours and swim nonstop without touching the boat or another human. He also must wear only ordinary swim suit, goggles, and swim cap.

Almost 2,000 swimmers from all around the world has done this swim, but no Filipino yet. Mount Everest had already been summited by a few Filipinos, but not the English Channel.

I was there last year to make my first attempt, but I was not able to swim during my swim window because of bad weather.

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