A Kalk Bay Launch for Achieving the Impossible by Lewis Gordon Pugh
When the RSVP emails began flooding the inbox of Kalk Bay Books, responding to the first of three Cape Town launches for Lewis Gordon Pugh’s memoir, Achieving the Impossible, proprietor Ann Donald set up a big screen outside the book shop, replete with couches and blankets to stave off the chilly air.
Inside the shop on the night, media consultant Donald Paul introduced the author to a capacity crowd that listened for well over an hour to snippets of Pugh’s adventures. He spoke of his recent swim in the shadow of Mount Everest wearing just a speedo, a rubber swimming cap and his goggles.
Donald Paul said the book was more than an autobiography of an environmental warrior, “It’s the unravelling story of the future of this planet. There are still denialists today. If there wasn’t global warming, Lewis wouldn’t be sitting here. Ten years ago, he couldn’t have swum at the north pole. Perhaps the denialists should spend 18 minutes and 50 seconds in water at minus one point seven!”
Reflecting on his time in the SAS, Pugh said, “You have to have a special mindset. You need to know how to take orders. You also have to know when to stand up and disagree.” These are just some of the qualities that prepared him to take on the formidable task he’s embraced to bring global attention to the matter of global warming.
He spoke of Tim Noakes of UCT’s Sports Science Institute, describing him as “the most exceptional scientist, thinker and person on an expedition. He’s as tough as old boots, able to withstand the worst conditions. With Tim it’s all about the questioning. He throws questions at you all the time: Is this the best you can do? What assumptions are you making? Are those assumptions valid. He’s also a phenomenal team player. Him and his wife. Marilyn and Tim come as a package, a formidable package. The pressure on his shoulders is enormous. Here’s a young guy about to do something no human has ever done before. He can’t speak to me about that. He speaks to Marilyn. She brings a lot of sense and courage to the equation.”
Unlike on his previous extreme endurance swims, Pugh discovered that listening to aggro-inducing rappers Puff Daddy and Eminem was not the route to take. “When swimming at the north pole, you can’t approach the water with a “pussy” attitude. I needed my mood pumping to get going and I’d listen to music that would hype me up. But on my first attempt on Everest after 300 m I was going under and had to be pulled out the water. The Sandhurst former general who was in charge of the expedition said, ‘You have to forget everything you know about swimming. Now you must lose everything you learned in the SAS. On Mount Everest you enter the water with huge respect, with great humility. You can’t bully Mount Everest. Or it will be the last swim of your life. I want you to walk into the water gently. Swim as if you’re swimming with your mother doing a gentle breast stroke.’”
And he did. And the rest his history. Read all about it in Achieving the Impossible.