In our February / March 2012 issue of the magazine we chose artic swimmer and environmental campaigner Lewis Gordon Pugh as our Open Water Hero. Sarah Warwick, who interviewd Pugh, found there was much more to say about the man than could fit onto a couple of pages in print, so here’s a little more. But first, take a look at YouTube clip of that epic swim:
I asked if he’d ever do the swim again. His answer was emphatic: “Never! No. I feel proud that we achieved that, but no.”
His climate change crusade isn’t over, though, far from it. In 2010 he completed a kilometre swim on the slopes of Mount Everest, despite nearly drowning in the process, to raise awareness of melting glaciers in the Himalayas. He also tells me he’s getting ready for another challenge this year, but he won’t give a hint what it is, (“we keep it quiet till the last minute”).
The swimming is important as it gets the attention of the world’s media, but it’s just a part of what he does. In 2008 he founded the Polar Defense Project to campaign for greater protection for the Arctic, while in 2009 he took the evidence of witnesses at the Pan-African Climate and Poverty Hearings. He has continued to lobby for legislation affecting the environment, and has made it his lifetime goal to make a difference in this area. In this context the swimming is merely a symbol of what he is trying to achieve. “In order to ask heads of state to make difficult decisions, I have to be as courageous as I’m asking them to be,” he says.
Fair-minded, with outstanding physical bravery and a keen sense of duty, Pugh would have made the perfect Victorian explorer. When I ask who his own heroes are, his choice of explorers Sir Edmund Hillary and Fridtjof Nansen is telling. Despite his very modern crusade, Pugh seems himself to be in some ways a throwback to the kind of chap the 19th century produced many of and we have few of today.
At the same time, as we look to an uncertain future as far as the environment is concerned, it’s clear that Pugh has the drive and the skills to keep climate change on the political agenda. Whatever the future holds, it’s clear the natural world is lucky to have Lewis Gordon Pugh fighting its corner.
Pugh’s secrets of success
- Before his swim in 2007, Pugh’s’ friend told him, “When you’re faced with something you think is impossible; when you’re in doubt and fear, you need anchors to help you achieve your goal.”
- Divide your goal up into a series of smaller goals. At each one, think of all the people who have helped you.
- In your mind, walk back to your childhood. Remember where you’ve come from and what you’ve learned. Remember all your previous swims and that you’ve completed them. When times get tough, remember your victories.
- Don’t confuse your subconscious by preparing for success and defeat. There is nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.