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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Lewis Pugh’s 21 Yaks and a Speedo Makes a Splash at The Book Lounge

Lewis Pugh

There is never a dull moment at The Book Lounge, Cape Town’s vibrant hub of literary discussion. Of late there has been a plethora of exciting events, but the launch of Lewis Pugh’s 21 Yaks and a Speedo must surely rate as a highlight, with the fascinating and awe-inspiring author holding the audience rapt for well over an hour.

21 Yaks and a SpeedoThe Book Lounge proprietor Mervyn Sloman recalled the fabulously successful launch in 2010 of Pugh’s earlier book, Achieving the Impossible, and expressed his delight at having him back at the shop. He introduced Pugh as “a maritime lawyer, a pioneer swimmer, ocean advocate regarded by many around the world as an absolute inspiration – all that and an author”! Undertaking his first Robben Island swim as a 17 year old, he was the first to achieve a long distance swim in every ocean of the world. He pioneered more swims around famous landmarks than any other person in history.

He swam across the icy waters of the North Pole to highlight the effects of climate change and then, at an altitude never attempted before, he swam across a glacial lake on Mount Everest in order to focus the world’s attention on the damage being done to the Himalayan glaciers.

Pugh shared an array of tales, hilarious and harrowing, from the various escapades that have brought him to the edge of his endurance. The story of how “the General” rescued the situation in the Maldives when their vessel broke down illustrated the “dreams are for free” mentality that made him such a profound teacher in Pugh’s life.

British Army Rt. Major General Tim Toyne Sewell — not so secretly known as Big Tim to his subordinates at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — started by commandeering Pugh’s mobile phone in order to call the manager of the Chelsea Football Club. He then requested assistance from the captain of what he hoped was Roman Abramovich’s luxury yacht, hovering on the horizon. A slick sequence of well-timed connections ensued and in short order, the swim was back on track and all ended well.

It was a pivotal moment for Pugh, who found himself asking some hard questions. “Why did I not make that call to Roman Abramovich? Why didn’t I believe he would come and rescue the swim? Where did that limiting belief come from? How is it that we have self-limiting beliefs and we don’t even know they are there?”

Similar tales of derring-do and extraordinary bravery had most in the audience simultaneously laughing and tearing up. Pugh spoke with tremendous affection of the people who had sacrificed so much in order to see him succeed in his endeavours. He said it was hard not to get emotional about the risks people had taken on his behalf, and to be humbled and grateful for the deepest lessons of wisdom and humility he could ever hope to learn – lessons he passes on in 21 Yaks and a Speedo to those who are open-minded and openhearted enough to grasp them.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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