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In 2006 Lewis Gordon Pugh became the first swimmer in history to complete a long distance swim in all 5 oceans of the world, a feat which many had considered to be the “holy grail” of swimming. He also became the first person to complete a long distance swim in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. In a career spanning 20 years he pioneered more swims around famous landmarks than any other swimmer and can lay claim to having been the greatest cold water swimmer in history.
As a boy, Lewis moved from England to South Africa, and it was there that his affair with the sea began. By the age of 17, Lewis had completed a swim from Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) to Cape Town, and shortly thereafter he crossed the English Channel. His relentless drive pushed him to tackle longer, harder and colder swims, in the most remote and inhospitable parts of the world.
After reading law at the University of Cape Town and Cambridge University, and working as a solicitor in the City, he went on to become the first person to swim around North Cape, the most northern point in Europe in 2003. The following year, he completed an epic 204 kilometre swim down Norway’s longest fjord, appropriately earning himself the nickname “The Ice Bear”. Both swims were made into documentaries for the National Geographic Channel.
In 2005 Lewis made world headlines again when, in just a swimming costume, cap and pair of goggles, and unperturbed by polar bears, he plunged into the frozen Arctic Ocean close to the North Pole and swam 1 kilometre to break the world record for the most northern long distance swim. Four months later, he endured the same punishment in Antarctica, and broke the record for the most southern long distance swim – in 0 degree water!
So what drives him? For Lewis, the answer is simple - he follows his dreams:
"I never do the same swim twice. The next swim must be harder and more challenging, otherwise I am going backwards. Sometimes we set boundaries for ourselves in life, or even worse, we allow others to do so. In many cases, these boundaries are just in our mind and need to be pushed away".
Lewis's exploits have received wide-spread media attention. His swim in Antarctica was covered by over 500 TV news broadcasters around the world, including CNN, BBC, ABC News, Good Morning America and Sky News.
Lewis’s remarkable story is powerful and inspirational. He talks with much experience on having a vision in life, the value of goal setting, courage, perseverance, self motivation, leadership, teamwork, overcoming failure, leaving an enduring legacy, and of course his love for the Polar Regions.
He describes what it feels like to dive into 0 degree water, which for most of us would be fatal in a matter of seconds, and how he is able to survive by using mind power techniques to raise his core body temperature to almost fever pitch.
He explains how to overcome fear, with practical examples of swimming near leopard seals, sharks and polar bears. And he talks about the lessons he has learnt from leading his team through the Arctic, Southern, Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and how to choose the right team for each job. Lewis's explanations of his epic experiences are riveting and inspirational for any audience.
5th March 2006
British athlete regains honour for British winter sports.
Top long distance British swimmer, Lewis Gordon Pugh, has brought pride back to Great Britain with an exceptional triumph at the World Winter Swimming Championships held at Oulu, Finland today (Sunday, 5 March).
In a 500 metre race in zero degree water, Pugh beat the Russian ice swimming champion Brylin Viktorovich by more than one hundred meters to take the gold medal and set a new world record time of 7 minutes and 2 seconds.
The international swimming’s “cold war” was held in an ice-pool cut from the frozen estuary of the Oulu River in Finland. Afterwards Pugh said, “I am absolutely delighted to have beaten the Russians as they are such hard competitors.”
Pugh is no stranger to cold water. He recently became the first person to complete a long distance swim in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Pugh’s emphatic win has restored some honour to Britain after their poor performance at the recent Winter Olympics Games in Torino, Italy.
Pugh’s mind coach, David Becker said, “Pugh has been in awesome condition since swimming in Antarctica in December, and it didn’t surprise me that he won by such a margin. It is a great day for British swimming!”
In addition to swimming in the World Winter Swimming Championships this week, Pugh has also been working with scientists from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health who have been testing his unique ability to withstand long periods in icy water.
South African sports medicine guru Professor Tim Noakes, who accompanied Pugh to Antarctica, determined that Pugh has a unique ability to raise his body temperature to nearly 39 degrees C, just by visualising the swim ahead of him.
Pugh is well-known across the world for his ability to swim long distances in icy waters, and is almost legend in Scandinavia. In 2003 he swam around the top of the island of Spitsbergen barely 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole. And in 2004, he baffled sceptical Norwegians when he decided to swim the length of their longest fjord, Sognefjord, a gruelling 204 kilometre journey in water temperatures as low as 6 degrees C, which took him 21 days to complete.
In February this year, in Sydney, Australia, Pugh notched up the distinction of becoming the first person ever to complete a long-distance swim in all five oceans of the world, a feat which many had considered to be the "Holy Grail" of swimming.
"All my previous swims have been about competing against myself and my own limits, so this was really new ground for me. I did my best, and am very pleased that I remain unbeaten," said Pugh, with a smile.