Cape Town Lawyer Swims in the North Pole
A Cape Town lawyer, dressed only in swimming trunks,
a cap and goggles, spent nearly 19 minutes yesterday in the coldest
water ever endured by a man who lived to tell the tale.
Lewis Gordon Pugh dives into the ocean
at the North Pole
Lewis Gordon Pugh became the first person to complete a long distance
swim at the North Pole.
The feat is not only unprecedented in physical
terms. It also provides compelling evidence that global warming
is breaking up the Arctic ice cap.
The adventurer, the only man to carry out endurance
swims in all five oceans, swam 1km (more than half a mile) along
a temporary crack in the ice in 18 minutes and 50 seconds.
Most people would die quickly in a water temperature
of -1.8C (29F) through a rapid process of hyperventilation, shock
and drowning. But Mr Pugh is made of sterner stuff.
After recovering in his support boat he confessed that the pain
It should not be possible to swim at the North
Pole, at 90 degrees North in the Arctic Ocean, but an increase in
global air temperatures has resulted in a decrease in sea ice. As
a result, patches of open sea are appearing in summer. Scientists
predict that by 2040 there may be no sea ice left in the Arctic
Mr Pugh, 37, said he hoped his effort to draw
attention to the effects of global warming would put pressure on
world leaders to cut carbon emissions. He added: "I want my
children, and their children, to know that polar bears are still
living in the Arctic.
"I am obviously ecstatic to have succeeded
but this swim is a triumph and a tragedy. A triumph that I could
swim in such ferocious conditions but a tragedy that it's possible
to swim at the North Pole."
An international ambassador for the conservation
organisation WWF, he carried out the swim after years spent acclimatising
his body to extreme cold.
In the process he broke his own record yesterday
for the coldest human swim, which previously stood at a balmy 0C
in the waters off Antarctica.
Mr Pugh's ability to survive in such an extreme
environment has baffled scientists for years, but he admitted yesterday
that he considered giving up during his toughest challenge.
Mr Pugh's ability to survive in such an extreme environment has
baffled scientists for years
He said he was spurred on by the presence of Jorgen Amundsen, a
relative of Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach to the South
Pole. Mr Pugh trained with Mr Amundsen for the event, The Investec
North Pole Challenge, at a Norwegian glacial lake, and the Norwegian
skied on the ice alongside him during the swim.
"The water was absolutely black," said
Mr Pugh. "It was like jumping into a dark black hole. It was
frightening. The pain was immediate and felt like my body was on
fire. I was in excruciating pain from beginning to end and I nearly
quit on a few occasions. It was without doubt the hardest swim of
"I just kept on looking at Jorgen Amundsen.
I will never ever give up in front of a Norwegian, let alone a relative
of Roald Amundsen. There is too must rivalry between our two nations."
The swim took place at 2am in the permanent daytime
at the North Pole at this time of year. Mr Pugh wore just trunks
and goggles to comply with the rules of the Channel Swimming Association.
His cold water endurance swims are made possible
by a phenomenon he calls "anticipatory thermogenesis",
the ability to elevate his core body temperature while psyching
himself up before he enters the water.
"As soon as I enter cold water my body shunts
all my warm blood to my core to protect my vital organs. It then
generates incredible heat," he said. "Before I even enter
the water, I am able to elevate my core body temperature by as much
as 1.4C. This phenomenon has, to our knowledge, not been noted in
any other human."
Mr Pugh discovered his unusual gift by accident
when he began to perspire and feel thirsty while staring at freezing
water before an earlier Arctic dip. Prof Tim Noakes, a professor
of sports science from the University of Cape Town, who has been
monitoring the swimmer, said he had pushed the boundaries of what
was humanly possible.
"To swim at the North Pole is an incredible
achievement and is the culmination of years of unique endeavour
by an astonishing individual.
"At the end of the swim Lewis was showing
obvious signs of distress but he never faltered and his performance
was his best yet.
"There has never been anyone like him. He
was sweating before he left the ship and got into the water, and
within one hour of finishing he was walking around in a T-shirt,
shorts and flip flops. The rest of us are wearing multiple layers
of clothing, including gloves and hats."
Prof Noakes said that while Mr Pugh was able to
raise the temperature around his heart, lungs and brain before a
swim, the temperature of his muscles dropped to 30C during the event,
which would prove fatal for most people.
The adventurer believes he has trained himself
to experience a kind of Pavlovian response to cold water, which
results in his body heating up.
Last year, Mr Pugh, who moved to England from
South Africa as a child, became the first person to swim the 203-mile
length of the Thames.
Article from The Daily Telegraph
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