Athletes and those who lust for challenge face a wide variety of obstacles, but one of the least discussed is temperature.
We’re incredibly fragile creatures! As soon as the leaves begin to turn, most of us bundle up and swear off swimming until the return of summer.
Only the most tenacious among us see icy water as an invitation to go for a swim, and one such superhuman is Lewis Pugh, who has earned a title worth boasting: The Human Polar Bear.
Lewis William Gordon Pugh, otherwise known as The Human Polar Bear, was born on December 5th, 1969 to Surgeon Rear Admiral PD Gordon Pugh and his wife Margery Pugh in Plymouth, England.
Pugh’s father was a Royal Navy surgeon, noteworthy author, and a Victorian ceramics collector, which set up Lewis for an interesting life of adventure!
His mother was a nurse, and when he was ten years old, he and his family moved to South Africa.
There, he studied at both St. Andrew’s College and Camps Bay High School. He was educated in politics and law while attending the University of Cape Town, and graduated top of his class.
While he was young, he had the fortune of visiting many South African National Parks, following his father’s deep desire to instill in him an all-encompassing love and respect for nature.
The lessons he learned at these parks would stick with him for the rest of his life.
Around the age of 25, he returned to his birthplace of England, studying International Law at Jesus College.
After that, he was a maritime lawyer working in London for many years. While working, he also served in Britain’s Special Air Service as a reservist, but in 2003, he left law in favor of nature. Lewis wholly dedicated himself to campaigning in defense of the oceans.
This is when he began speaking to business leaders and Heads of State about overfishing, pollution and even the global disaster that is climate change.
But it wouldn’t be until 2006 when he would utilize his swimming abilities as tools to defend the oceans he loved.
In 2006, Lewis Pugh earned his spot as the first human to ever swim the full length of the River Thames, a cold-water river that flows through southern England.
This project was intended to call attention to the climate change-induced drought, which had rendered much of the river stagnant or completely dry during the swim.
He was forced to run the first 26 miles of the then-dry river. Shortly after this demonstration, England’s Prime Minister brought the Climate Change Bill to Parliament.
But perhaps his most impressive swim came in 2007, when he became the first person to tackle a long-distance swim across the entire North Pole.
Lewis Pugh swims the North Pole
In this potentially deadly swim, he covered 0.62 miles of open water in just under 19 minutes.
That means he spent almost 20 minutes in water that had been chilled to a shocking 29 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.7 degrees Celcius) — and he did it in nothing but a Speedo!
In 2010, Pugh even took on a lake in one of the most infamous locations on Earth– Mt. Everest– in an effort to call attention to the dangerous melting of glaciers.
He swam across a glacial lake called Lake Pumori, covering 0.62 miles of 35-degree water at 17,300 feet above sea level. To this day, this swim is the highest one recorded.
Lewis Pugh’s mind-shifting Mt. Everest swim
What We Can Learn From Him
Lewis Pugh is the living, breathing incarnate of purpose.
He uses his talent and resilience not just to appeal to his ego, but to call attention to urgent global issues that often get brushed aside in favor of more ‘profitable’ or ‘interesting’ things.
He is, above all, an activist, and we could use more people who took on challenges in the name of a cause like he does.
Even when he finds himself in the limelight while appearing on various news outlets, he seizes the attention as an opportunity to highlight the importance of protecting the crumbling environment.
He never loses sight of what he cares about the most.
What Is He Currently Doing?
Lewis Pugh continues advocating for the ocean as a public speaker.
He gives over one hundred speeches every year to various companies and organizations, teaching those who listen to care for the environment.
He does his best to inspire and motivate his audience to enact the changes that need to happen on a personal and global level.