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Lewis Pugh at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 4

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Seven years ago, Lewis Pugh went to the Arctic for the first time, and since then he says he has seen it change “without description.” To bring awareness to the issue of climate change, Pugh decided that he would swim across the North Pole, in waters at -1.7 degrees Celsius.

Today, on stage, Pugh describes his experience and the months of training that go into an Arctic swim. He says it was only after a year of training that he felt confident enough to enter the icy waters. They stopped the ship, he dived into the sea. He says, “I have never felt anything like that moment.” The paradox of the experience was that he felt like he was on fire, he explains. His hands froze immediately, and even by the next day had not regained feeling. As a swimmer who must grab the water with his hands to move, he was panicked, but eventually he regained full feeling.

He persevered in his efforts until, eventually, came the day of the actual swim. He remembers looking into the black water and seeing big chunks of ice. Now, he shows us the video of the 20-minute Arctic swim in nothing but a Speedo swimsuit. In the water, he moves comfortably, it looks almost effortless, and save for the ice caps behind him, he could be in any pool. But, when he gets out of the water, the difficulty of the challenge is written all over him. He seems barely alive.

The robustly athletic Pugh of today calls us back to reality. He explains that this swim has afforded him the opportunity to speak to people all over the world. They want to hear about his experience, and he tells them about climate change.