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What It Takes: Lewis Gordon Pugh
How to swim with icebergs  while wearing nothing but a Speedo.  
Text by Andrew Berg   Photograph by Terje Eggum/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Lewis Pugh

Cold baths make Lewis Pugh hot. Thanks to a conditioned response called anticipatory thermogenesis, the British swimmer can elevate his body temperature to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) just by standing at water's edge. This parlor trick has served him well. In December 2005 he completed a grueling swim in Antarctica, splashing out a 30-minute mile in the 35-degree (2-degree Celsius) Southern Ocean. Five months earlier he swam for 21 minutes off the northern tip of Spitsbergen Island in an equally frigid Arctic Ocean (pictured). Astoundingly, he accomplished these feats in accordance with the Channel Swimming Association's dress code: a swimming cap, goggles, and a Speedo. "Most people would die very quickly," says Tim Noakes, director of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and a member of Pugh's support team. "He has a unique ability." Finally, in January, Pugh—who crossed the English Channel in 1992—swam 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) across Nelson Mandela Bay, in South Africa, and 9.3 miles (14.9 kilometers) through shark-infested waters off Sydney, Australia, to become the only person to swim long distances in all five oceans.     

USE YOUR IMAGINATION: "When I'm preparing for a swim, I imagine absolutely everything about it: the color of the water, how cold it is, the taste of salt in my mouth. I visualize each and every stroke. For the Antarctic swim, I knew I'd be in the water for about 30 minutes, and I can't tell you how many times I imagined those minutes, right down to every iceberg I would swim past."
DON'T TEST THE WATERS: "You put your toe in and you think, Ehhh, maybe, maybe not. Well, if I do that, I can't get in the water. It's like going into battle. I have to get myself really revved up, seriously aggressive. I dive in, and there's only one place I'm getting out—and that's at the end."
FEEL THE BURN: "When you first jump in, your skin is absolutely burning. You also experience massive hyperventilation, so coordinating the breathing with the swimming stroke is really difficult. Because I swim the crawl, I often gasp in a little bit of water. After five or ten minutes you start losing the feeling in your fingers and toes, and as it slowly moves up your legs, you notice how inefficient your stroke is becoming. Then you have this feeling of miserable, aching cold, deep inside you. That's probably a good time to get out."
AVOID PENGUINS: "They're the main diet of leopard seals. Of all the creatures in the world that really frighten me—the hyena in Africa, the great white shark—leopard seals are near the top of the list. They're killers. If my team spots one, they'll pull me out of the water."
PROTECT YOUR CORE: "When I started the Antarctic swim, my temperature was 101 degrees (38 degrees Celsius). When I stopped, it was about 96.8 (36 Celsius). In the cold, all the blood rushes to your core to protect your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and brain. When you leave the water, the blood rushes back to your arms and legs, absorbs that freezing cold, and brings it back to the heart. As soon as I got into the boat, my core temperature plummeted to 91.4 degrees (33 degress Celsius). We then stabilized it and brought it back up again." 
SHOWER UP: "After I get out, it's straight into a hot shower. I've got to start the reheating process really quickly. It's only once the water is coming over me that I start to feel the effects of hypothermia. I get madly disoriented."
DO THE MATH: "I've been on swims where people have freaked out about sharks. You have to think about something else, otherwise it will absolutely paralyze you. I do math problems, anything. It's like failure—you have to get it out of your mind, otherwise you will fail."
BE PHILOSOPHICAL: "This may sound funny, but I'm not a risktaker. I consider myself a risk manager, and I take safety really, really seriously. I follow a philosophy that I call the "P factor": Proper planning and preparation prevent a piss-poor performance."

Cover: Adventure magazine

Pick up the May 2006 issue for 38 amazing family escapes, wild beaches, and cool festivals; Sebastian Junger's lessons from the road; and the best bikes for summer.

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