Feature

The frozen swimmer

Lewis Gordon Pugh is devoted to swimming distances of at least half a mile in the world’s iciest bodies of water, clad only in a Speedo.

Lewis Gordon Pugh prefers his water ice-cold, said Grayson Schaffer in Outside. As one of the world’s few cold-water distance swimmers, Pugh, a 40-year-old Brit who lives in South Africa, is devoted to swimming distances of at least half a mile in the world’s iciest bodies of water, clad only in a Speedo. A onetime maritime lawyer who now swims full-time, Pugh took up the sport about 10 years ago for the pure challenge, though he now uses his feats to draw attention to global warming. He’s braved frigid waters in such places as a lake at the foot of Mount Everest, 16,000 feet above sea level, and Antarctica’s Whaler’s Bay. His 2007 North Pole swim in 29-degree waters left him without feeling in his fingers for four months. And until you’ve had an icicle form in your private parts, he says, “You don’t know pain.”

In preparation for each major swim, he packs on an extra 20 pounds of fat for insulation, and he says he is able “to will” his body temperature to 101 degrees just before he hits the water—though he’s not sure how he does it. It’s certainly his will, though, that keeps him moving in the frigid waters. “As a swimmer, I’m just above average,” he says. “But I have a great deal of desire.”

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