Franco Prezioso

Franco Prezioso at the Arena Club. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun / August 9, 2013)

This guy's a beast.”

“We often wonder if he has gills.”

Shana Hersh and Brian Walker are quick to praise their friend Franco Prezioso, a long-distance open-water swimmer from Bel Air.

Of course, Prezioso is rarely around to hear it, as the 47-year-old Towson grad is often found doing 10-kilometer workouts in Bel Air's Arena Club pool.

“That's ridiculous,” Walker said of Prezioso's routines. “I don't know how he does it.”

And on the heels of finishing his longest race, the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test, or END-WET, a 27-mile jaunt down the Red River on July 13, Prezioso is chest-deep in preparations for his next swim campaign: the Cape Circumnavigation Challenge, a 15.1-mile course around Cape May, N.J.

“I love getting out there; I love swimming,” he said. “It's extremely therapeutic.”

Getting started

Before 2008, Prezioso spent his weekends on the links. A hobby he dropped long ago, golf led Prezioso into the water.

Walker, a longtime friend who met Prezioso playing rugby at Towson, is also an accomplished triathlete. After listening on greens and tee boxes at Maryland Golf and Country Club to Walker's experiences and fielding some requests to swim triathlon legs, Prezioso decided swimming would be better for him.

“Once you're training for distance, you're training for distance,” Prezioso said. “So it was just a matter of how much.”

Though he hadn't swum seriously since lessons and recreational teams as an adolescent, Prezioso plunged headfirst into his inaugural season, finishing the 4.4-mile Chesapeake Bay Swim in Annapolis and the 3-mile Nanticoke River Swim in Bivalve, outside Salisbury.

“It was tough,” Walker said of Prezioso's transition and his swim at Nanticoke. “He came out of the water and I think he was a little bummed because he thought he'd do a little better. … He was like, ‘If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right.'”

Prezioso, a father of two who works at a mortgage firm in Glen Burnie, soon realized that he could do more. But he didn't know how to mold his life to accommodate professional-level training.

“You don't really feel like going home and mowing the lawn after workouts like these,” Prezioso said.

After his first season, he found triathlon long-distance swim coach Kevin Joubert of Merritt Athletic Club in Towson. Joubert helped Prezioso develop a training regimen consisting of workouts five days a week.

“I'm not motivated by someone standing over me,” Prezioso said. “I like to set goals and maintain them.”

On weekdays, Prezioso arrives at the Arena Club about 7 a.m. and spends up to an hour and a half swimming. On weekends, when he isn't open-water practicing in Gunpowder Falls State Park, Prezioso is doing workouts of up to five hours. And he's in bed by 7 p.m.

“What Franco has in spades is consistency,” Joubert said. “Some athletes you put the schedule on for Tuesday and it gets done on Monday or Wednesday. Sometimes it gets skipped. With Franco, if it goes on the schedule, it gets done.”