Smile While You Swim – Lewis Pugh’s Heroic Achievement


The latest research shows that due to pollution and human activity only 13 percent of the world’s seas can be called ‘the wilderness’. There is almost no marine wilderness because of fishing, a huge amount of plastic waste, the expansion of commercial shipping, and fertiliser run-off from the land. The lead author of the University of Queensland study, Kendall Jones, wrote: “We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains. The ocean is immense, covering over 70% of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem.” Another problem is also emerging – the massive use of medically-prescribed drugs that are finding their way into the environment as they pass through humans. Just in this country alone, 64.7 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were handed out in 2018. I won’t even chance a guess as to the global combined total of these prescriptions. These drugs stay in soil for many months, contaminating worms, flies and other food resources of birds, and seep into our water supplies. Apart from anti-depressants, there has been a rise in self-help books. Some of these advocate becoming more selfish, teaching how to say NO, others advise to plead with the universe for help. There is an epidemic of people complaining of loneliness. This is quite extraordinary in the twenty-first century. Philosophers across the millennia have been pondering what happiness is and how to be happy. One could think that by now it should be obvious to everybody, but as we don’t teach primary school children about this, the results are dire; a rise in the suicide rate, self-harming of children, and a rise in violent crime. Yet, it would be helpful to teach children that the only way to find true happiness is by doing something for others, a good deed every day. I have never heard anyone who is involved in any voluntary work complaining of being bored, lonely or depressed.  A recent book, ‘A Boy in the Water’ by Tom Gregory shows what can be achieved by one man. It is an account of ‘a remarkable bond between a coach and a boy, and an act of endurance that will shape and mark that boy for the rest of his life.’


As I write this, one extraordinary man is highlighting the need to save the oceans. It is Lewis Pugh, 50, who recently swam the full length of the English Channel, from Land’s End to Dover. Although he is an experienced endurance swimmer, this is an outstanding achievement. He coped with challenging conditions and jellyfish attacks by admiring the English coast: ‘one of the most beautiful in the world.’ He also smiles while he swims. How inspirational is this… A Japanese man, who has become the world’s oldest male at 112 years and 344 days, has said the secret to a long life is to ‘keep smiling and don’t get angry.’ Sound advice from two extraordinary people that we should follow.  Now Lewis has accomplished another challenge, never attempted by anyone before – to swim across the lake under the Antarctic melting ice sheet. A set of amazing photographs shows him swimming in the electric-blue of the underground lake.


He swam under the largest ice mass in the world for 8 minutes, with the temperature close to freezing point. Speaking from his tent in East Antarctica, he said that being under the ice sheet was the most beautiful place on earth. It is vast. It is beautiful. But everywhere we look we are seeing melting water. It was a shade of royal blue. It turned turquoise, and then indigo, psychedelic blue, then turning violet.

LewisPughIce3  He faced the constant threat of being swallowed up by the lake. At any time a large hole, known as moulin, could open up, with Lewis plummeting hundreds of metres to the continent’s bedrock.  He did it as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the climate crisis at the poles and is calling for the creation of a network of marine protected areas. Speaking of the real dangers that faced him, he said: ‘I was quite relieved to see my team at the end. This is a high-consequence environment to swim in. It took me 33 years of training to swim those eight minutes, and a team of incredible French mountaineers to get me in and out of the tunnel safely.’


Married Mr Pugh has been described as the ‘Sir Edmund Hillary of swimming’ and was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. In 2007 he became the first person to complete a long-distance swim across the Geographic North Pole. The 1km crawl across an open patch of sea was to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice. Mr Pugh is the first person ever to swim across an entire lake formed in a melting ice cap.


Lewis Pugh is a remarkable man and proof that mind over matter is helpful in achieving our goals.

Counting our blessings each and every day also averts feelings of loneliness and being dissatisfied with life. Dwelling on any real or perceived problems often leads to the worst thing happening, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I have to come back to land pollution which affects the ocean too. In the USA, hundreds of people with cancer are pursuing a legal claim against Monsanto, the makers of the world’s most popular weedkiller, Roundup. It is alleged that this weedkiller used in gardens, parks and on food crops farms is potentially a cause of cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Yet, it was proclaimed to be safe in the USA and the EU. After it was found that its ingredient glyphosate can cause cancer in humans, the claims snowballed. I already wrote a few times that my garden is organic and that I only buy organic products, but like-minded people cannot stop poisoning of the rivers and the oceans if the practice of spraying crops is not removed.  Rachel Carson warned about the dangers of pesticides decades ago and yet we are still using chemical contaminants to our peril. Here we have some visionary people who have turned their land into natural meadows and make their, good by all accounts, living by providing very much in demand organic produce.


I can only conclude that happiness is easily found by simply not gazing at our navel, nor over-analysing our feelings, nor obsessing about our social media profiles, but by doing something, however small, for somebody else. Kirk Douglas, who died a few days ago at age 103, was quoted to have found a solution to the depression he suffered earlier in life. He devoted himself to helping others, and not thinking about himself. It worked for him, and it would work for anyone equally well.  I am going to write again about one of many ways of achieving life-long fulfillment and happiness, without ever having to take any stimulants or antidepressants, the poison of our time.

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