The Malta Independent 21 April 2019, Sunday

The First ever Maltese to enter the Guinness Book of Records

Malta Independent Tuesday, 21 December 2004, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

ALBERT RIZZO has been a well-known sporting, social and political personality for around 25 years now – that is, since that famous 25 September 1980 day when he took to the water to beat his grandfather Turu’s 50 year-long record of treading water for 68 hours. Since that day, Albert went on to register a 132-hour record, apart from other feats, as well as winning the Sportsman of the Year award, becoming one of Malta’s most renowned auctioneers and valuers and also being elected mayor of Gzira, his home town. Three years ago, his 1980 feat was officially recognised by the State – he was awarded the Gieh ir-Repubblika. Here he tells his story to Henry Brincat.

“When my name was included in the Guinness Book of Records for the first time, it was a big satisfaction for me, not only because of having my name in such a world-famous publication, but also because I managed to include my grandfather’s great feat of the 1930s – a feat which had never been recognised officially before,” said Albert Rizzo.

The well-known auctioneer said that he had beaten the record of his grandfather, Turu, in September 1980. And they had some things in common which Albert came to know about later in his life.

He explained: “After that September 1980 feat, when I managed to tread water for just over three days, I was taken to the then Blue Sisters Hospital for my recovery. When I woke up, a sister entered my room and asked me if I knew where I was, and I said ‘This is the Blue Sisters Hospital.’

“But she insisted on asking the same question, again. Finally, she told me that the room and the bed on which I was resting were the same as those used by my grandfather, Turu, after his own achievement in the 1930s.

“Later I also found out, by searching the record books, that the day I started my feat, that is, on 25 September, was exactly the same day my ‘nannu’ started his, and we had also started at the same time 6pm – sheer coincidence,” he said.

“I still remember that when I got out of the water, there were great shouts of ‘Turu, Turu’ in honour of my grandfather, who deserved much more than the brief mention he had received in the past.

“I am really pleased that the Malta Olympic Committee honoured my grandfather with the Hall of Fame award a few days ago. He deserves to be there, among Malta’s sporting greats. Let us not forget that it was reported that he had also just failed to conclude the Sicily to Malta swim in 1933, having been ordered to get out of the rough seas when Malta was already well in sight

“Had he taken the advice of those with him to swim to Gozo, he would have succeeded, but he just wanted to finish in Malta and that was the main reason for his incomplete swim from Sicily to Malta,” said Rizzo.

He added: “Together with my brother James, we had made enquiries to see why my grandfather’s name had never before been included in the Guinness Book of Records. The official reply from them was simply because no one had applied on his behalf, although they admitted they had heard about his feats unofficially. Probably no one here ever knew what had to be done for such feats to be recognised officially.”

Rizzo continued: “It is not easy to get into that book. It’s not just an application and that’s it. They have to come over themselves, without your knowledge, and make their own assessments. Sometimes I even had some people swimming around me at the bottom of where I was treading water (in front of the Forestals Showroom at Gzira). Later I was told they were checking the depth of the area to see that I could not reach the bottom with my feet.

“Let’s also not forget that remaining for that lengthy period of time in the water without even sleeping (!) except for a few hours, and eating just liquid food, was a very big sacrifice which one has to endure to be successful,” he said.

Was there someone who pushed you to emulate grandfather Turu’s feat? “Of course, had it not been for the late Billy Apap, a great local sports promoter, I would never have made it. He continuously told me that I had all the ingredients to be as successful as my ‘nannu’ and perhaps even break his record. It was Apap who convinced me that I should go for it. A committee that included such people as Freddie Debono, Tony Formosa and doctors John Vella and the late John Muscat, started working on the idea, as they all promised to help me.

“It came to fruition on that 25 September 1980, when I was accompanied by a large number of supporters and a band to take to the sea at 6pm, embarking on my first successful achievement of 72 hours and three minutes – just over three days. I knew I would do it as I had already been through other sessions of 24 hours and 36 hours. I just felt confident

“We advised the directors of the Guinness Book of Records of my planned attempt and it was on this occasion that I noticed some swimmers going around me at the bottom of the sea at times during my feat. Later, a certain Mr Thompson signed a log book, together with the tests made by the doctors.

“I must also say that on that occasion, I also failed to obey Dr Vella’s instructions not to have anything else except liquid food. Minutes before I left home, I was eating a nice whole dish of pasta. I told Dr Vella it was simply impossible for me to stay three days in the water without eating. Thank God, I had no repercussions, but I still remember how Dr Vella went crazy after having watched me eating all that pasta.

“On arrival at the seafront, I was covered with Ederma cream – from top to bottom – to keep me in the best condition for the duration of the event. People used to come over and take a look at me in the water. It was an encouragement for me, seeing all those persons around, especially late in the evenings. At night it was miserable and I wanted a searchlight directed at me as I would not stay in the dark. And some small fishes did not allow me to get any rest as they continuously nipped me,” he said.

Rizzo went on to recall that he had got out of the water without any help whatsoever. “I felt I was strong enough to do it. I was in very good shape, although tired from the lack of sleep. But I still remember there were a lot of people congratulating me and shouting ‘Turu, Turu’.”

Rizzo was not just happy that he had achieved this feat. He went on to improve on it in 1982 in extremely dangerous conditions, after learning that an Indian swimmer had broken his record and pushed it up to 79 hours. “I was at the same place and was on 64 hours and going very strong. Yet during the night, I started smelling drainage – someone must have opened the drainage overflow, right where I was swimming. The doctors yelled and yelled that I had to go up, but I was determined to go on

“They told me I could do it again some other day, but I just wanted to go on and they took me out of the water after 80 hours. I did not know that I had been taken out of the water. Back at the Blue Sisters Hospital, when I regained consciousness, I was also told that even Dr Censu Tabone had – against his wishes – finished in that filthy water and even lost his spectacles (though these were later recovered from the seabed). It was an experience which I will never forget,” said Rizzo.

The great endurance swimmer says he will never forget the moment when he was invited to go to Austria by the Guinness Book of Records for official recognition of the feat. He said: “It was a beautiful place near a lake called Ferahersee. I was accompanied by my wife Mary, my late brother Alfie and some friends. The great shock was when I was on the plane at Luqa, waiting for our departure. I heard the captain calling my name and saying ‘Albert Rizzo – wanted by the police’.

“It was humiliating for me, going down in front of a packed plane as if I was a criminal. It was as clear as crystal – they had made this a political affair and just did not want me to go and collect my honour. But after a long delay – and an incident – I was finally allowed to leave.

“In Austria, they described my feat as one of the greatest. The audience was told that all the record-holders had done great feats like eating a large quantity of pasta in a relatively short time and many, many other feats, but added that ‘Albert Rizzo’s feat was unique in that it included the risk of life’.

“While in Austria, there was a BBC TV team taking films of how our feats had been achieved. When my turn arrived, they took me on a boat on the lake, and I had to jump into the water, which was very cold. The water temperature was below freezing point. It was only a five-minute stint, but I came out of it shivering and almost freezing to death,” he said.

That same year, Rizzo was again in the water for 108 hours and the following year, in 1984, he remained in the water for 132 hours, a record that still stands today.

Rizzo is also the proud holder of another endurance record in 1983 – that of swimming with his hands and feet tied – for a whole 36 hours.

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