The Blog

You can be courageous or you can be comfortable. You decide.

5 June 2016
By: Lewis Pugh
Category: Antarctica, Courage, Oceans, Ross Sea, Swimming
Comments: 16

Your Comments:

  1. Charles Chouler
    June 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    A beautiful story of relationships of rescue and restoration and a compelling cause for the world in a sea of change.

  2. Magali Perrey
    June 6, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Such an inspiring read . Thank you for sharing it. And I had to admit that I am now in love with that dog.
    Confessing that I have only discovered your work in January 2015, you have since been very inspiring to me. You and Bertrand Piccard ‘s wise words and stories have helped me so much to change my life (I suffer from chronic depression) – Thank you.

    • Lewis Pugh
      June 9, 2016 at 5:33 am

      Thank you. Bertrand is a wonderful and courageous man. He’s changing the world.

  3. Simon Ekin
    June 6, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you Lewis. I was taking with David Murray-Smith over lunch today; he alerted me to your story. We used you as a great example of the power of keeping going/ persistence/ tenacity because you NEVER know the difference or impact you make. Thank you for inspiring us. Get started on Pilates if you haven’t already, it’s a life-saver, with 80% of people in the west ravaged by back pain. (I am one.)

  4. Lynley R Butt
    June 6, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    What activities do the Russians hope to do that might disturb the marine wilderness environment / habitat for wild life in the Antartic Ross Sea? I asked the Russian Ambassador to Pakistan about Russian attitudes to global seas warming and arctic ice melt… I asked him are they just happy to get ports & the ability to move shipping about up there, or do they have some concerns and apprehensions as well? I think it is important for Russia to formulate some policy based on global common interests with respect to alarming snow melt in the Arctic, possible consideration to hi tech capacity for capping / tapping spouting emissions of highly inflammable & lethal methane from tundra ( leaving oil in the ground – although a pipeline of gas to Pakistan is being considered ) and with respect to The Antartic give consideration to the protection of its wildlife along with additional implications of Climate change for plankton growth and the healthy sustenance of the entire ecosystem and food chain there.

  5. Claire
    June 6, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    Surely not just coincidences, a Siberian husky called Lewis with such an incredible back story at such a critical time for you ….surely a signpost! I hope that your Russian trip will achieve everything you are striving for in the protection of the Ross Sea. Good luck, take care and may those in power understand the compelling need to create this Marine Protected Area and take appropriate action.

    • Lewis Pugh
      June 9, 2016 at 5:37 am

      Thank you for taking the time to write to me Claire. I’ve arrived in Moscow. Will speak tonight.

  6. Mark Dixen
    June 7, 2016 at 5:56 am

    Lewis, I’m so impressed by your story and tenacity. I send my congratulations!!! While you are recouperating you may wish to view a human rights issue occuring on Norfolk Island, where islanders are being denied self determination. Here is a link to an Avaaz petition seeking international support for their cause, I hope you can share the message. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_United_Nations_Acknowledge_Norfolk_Island/edit/

  7. Dean
    June 7, 2016 at 8:33 am

    That’s a great piece of writing, Lewis. Truly wishing you the best and gratitude that there are courageous fighters tackling the issues while fighting for physical fitness once again. Look forward to hearing of your escapades before too long. All the best. Dean

  8. Aurora
    June 7, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    Gracias, q te recuperes

  9. LILIAN TUDORIN
    June 8, 2016 at 12:16 am

    SO HAPPY FOR THE RESULTS!! I WISH THE WORLD WOULD SHOW THEIR RESPCT TO ALL DOGS ON THIS PLANET.., AS WE ALL KNOW THERE ARE DOG SDIEING EVERY DAY FOR THE DOG MEAT TRADE AND FOR THEIR FUR AND SKINN AND THIS IS WHAT I DO NOT TOLLERATE!! SO WE ALL SHOULD STAND UP AND TRY TO STOP THE CRIMINAL TRADE DONE WITH DOGS!!

  10. LILIAN TUDORIN
    June 8, 2016 at 12:22 am

    SO HAPPY FOR THE RESULTS!! I WISH THE WORLD WOULD SHOW IT’S RESPCT TO ALL DOGS ON THIS PLANET.., AS WE ALL KNOW THERE ARE DOGS DIEING EVERY DAY FOR THE DOG MEAT TRADE AND FOR THEIR FUR AND SKINN AND THIS IS WHAT I DO NOT TOLLERATE!! SO WE ALL SHOULD STAND UP AND TRY TO STOP THE CRIMINAL TRADE DONE WITH DOGS!!

  11. Mathy Franco-Joffe
    June 8, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    Dear Lewis, how I enjoyed reading your latest blog, sent to me by none other than your greatest fan, Allan Danker. How was your journey? I hope that the conference was fruitful and that finally your message is permeating through the world leadership. Warm regards from another admirer x

    • Lewis Pugh
      June 9, 2016 at 5:36 am

      Thank you Mathy. I hope you are very well. I’ve just arrived in Moscow. It was a long journey on my back … I will deliver my message tonight xx

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Life is not predictable. But exercising courage, and having the courage of your convictions, can help you weather the worst storms.

I’ve been campaigning for Antarctica’s Ross Sea to be declared a Marine Protected Area for 2 years now. Twenty four nations, and the EU, preside over the decision. They’ve met four times in the past four years, and every time the issue comes up for a vote, Russia vetoes it.

There will soon be another opportunity to vote on the issue. Which is why I’ve helped organise a special dinner in Moscow, together with my friend José Maria Figueres, former President of Costa Rica and Co-Chair of the Global Oceans Commission.

We invited Russian dignitaries, key decision makers and ambassadors to hear us talk about the importance of protecting the Ross Sea and its wildlife. It’s one of the last great wilderness areas left on the planet.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu agreed to give a video address on protecting the Antarctic region to promote world peace. I offered to share my personal experience of swimming in this remote and magnificent marine wilderness. The dinner will take place next week.

Five weeks ago, just as the RSVPs from dignitaries started coming in, I woke up with a sore back. At first I thought nothing of it, but it got steadily worse. I saw a physiotherapist who referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon. I’d slipped a disc between L4 and L5 (probably during a training session at sea during a particularly fierce Cape storm). “You can rest and see if it improves,” the doctor said. “But I think you’ll need surgery.”

My father was a surgeon. He always said the knife should be the last resort. So I rested for a week, but the pain kept getting worse and worse. And it was unrelenting. So I sought a second opinion. The second specialist told me that the prolapse was impacting my spinal nerve roots. “You’re beginning to lose significant power in your right leg.” I was also losing feeling in my toes. If we didn’t operate, I could have permanent nerve damage. Moreover, I would probably walk with a limp for the rest of my life and, it would be the end of my swimming career.

The man he strongly recommended to perform the procedure was renowned neurosurgeon 75 year old Dr Melvill.

I met Dr Melvill in his offices and he explained the pros and cons of the operation. I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t scared. One day I was training for my next Antarctic swim, the following I was flat on my back. “A strong back is crucial for what I do”, I explained to the good doctor.

Dr Melvill put down his ink pen. “I want to tell you something,” he said. “I have a dog named Lewis.”

It turns out that Dr Melvill used to breed Siberian Huskies, and Lewis is his pride and joy. It’s no coincidence that his dog has the same name as me; he was named after me.

When he was born, Lewis the Husky was what is known as “a swimmer”. He was so weak that he couldn’t even stand. He just lay on his stomach helplessly trying to move his legs, as if he was treading water. The vet wanted to put him down, but Dr Melvill’s wife Merle was having none of it.

She held that puppy close to her body for weeks; she turned him, fed him and kept him warm. He went on to become their champion breeding dog.

“Lewis,” Dr Melvill said to me, “my dog is going to be your first visitor when you get out of the high care ward. And we’re going to get you back in the ocean.” He had the courage of his convictions, and it was contagious. I agreed to have the operation.

A hospital bed is nobody’s favourite place to be. But on my second day, the door opened and there was the most magnificent Siberian husky I have ever seen. Lewis jumped straight up onto my bed and gave me an enormous sloppy kiss.

There’s something indescribably special about the bond between humans and dogs. While I was basking in the feeling, Dr Melvill was at the end of my bed pinching my toes. I could feel them again. “Lewis,” he said, “we’re going to get you right.”

The good news is I’ll be able to get back to Antarctica. The down side is that I need six weeks’ bed rest, and then another 9 – 12 months intensive rehabilitation, to recover. With the slip of a disc, which felt as arbitrary as a toss of a coin, my whole life had changed.

Two weeks in and I can now stand and I have started walking, albeit very slowly. And I’ve made a decision about Russia.

The banquet hall is booked. The dignitaries have accepted the invitation. And if that was not enough, Avaaz, the biggest lobby group in the world, just collected 1.3 million signatures urging world leaders to protect the Ross Sea. What was I to do?

I could cancel the event. I could make a video and share my experiences in the Ross Sea from a distance. But this is too important for me to do that. I care too much about the Ross Sea, and all the incredible animals that call it home. I believe that this event has the potential to change everything.

If we get this right the Ross Sea will become the biggest protected area on earth. So I’ve decided to get on a plane on Tuesday and fly to Russia.

It won’t be comfortable, but courage never is. You can be courageous, or you can be comfortable, but you can’t be both.

After Moscow, coincidentally I was scheduled to go to Siberia. Instead, I’ll come home and carry on my 6 weeks’ bed rest. And when that’s over I will visit a special Siberian husky. One who, together with his owners, taught me to draw courage from my convictions. Lewis the Husky reminded me how important it is to stay in the good fight.

I hope that very soon all of us, who have fought for the Ross Sea, will celebrate another courageous victory too.

Lewis Pugh is an endurance swimmer and the United Nations Patron of the Oceans

Photo credit: Michael Walker