Achieve your impossible [OPRAH: October 2013]

The “human polar bear,” Lewis Pugh, has tackled the seemingly impossible. Here, he tells Carla Calitz about the life strategies he learnt during his extreme swimming expeditions.

He’s an anomaly, a source of fascination for scientists and extreme athletes alike for his impossible feats. Unlike the rest of us, Lewis Pugh is able to elevate his own body temperature – a unique talent that has proved handy when he’s swimming in just a Speedo, cap and pair of goggles in icy Arctic and Antarctic waters.

He’s regarded as the world’s greatest cold-water swimmer, having survived sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic, faced down schizophrenic leopard seals and whale graveyards in Antarctica, and trudged alongside yaks up Mount Everest, only to nearly drown in a glacial lake.

The former reservist in the UK’s special-forces regiment, the Special Air Service, is now a 43-year-old maritime lawyer – and on a mission to shock the world out of its complacency about global warming. He certainly looks every inch the battle-worn soldier when I meet him at a coffee shop in Sea Point, Cape Town, on a blustery winter morning.

He has just come out of hospital after an operation on his hand, which is wrapped in a thick, white bandage. “I was kayaking in Simon’s Town a few months ago,” he explains nonchalantly, “when a wave dumped me out of my boat and into the spines of a sea urchin. My hand got infected.” Of course, this damage was incomparable to the pain he put his hands through in the Arctic – they were borderline frostbitten and took four months to regain full feeling, he admits.

Lately, he has been using his hands for a new challenge – writing the follow-up to his international bestseller Achieving the Impossible, the intriguingly titled 21 Yaks and a Speedo. “My book is composed of 21 stories, each one corresponding to an expedition that I’ve undertaken with my team, and each one illustrates a principle we’ve come to rely on. I’ve called each chapter a yak, after the strong, tenacious and stubborn animals that helped us up Everest. I’m hoping that these principles help readers overcome whatever’s holding them back.”

As we discuss his adventures, I realise that Lewis may seem like a stereotypical action man – with his broad shoulders, steely gaze, single-minded focus and restless energy – but he’s also a focused dreamer, a meticulous strategist and a person who prizes humility above all else. Here, he shares three of his 21 “yaks,” each one a lesson in how to reach for your own dreams…

Read full article: OPRAH Lewis Pugh

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