The Blog

Experience, energy, enthusiasm – the makings of a top team

12 August 2014
By: Lewis Pugh
Category: Dedication, Excellence, Expeditions, Oceans, Teams
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I want to talk about diversity. We’ve all heard the term ‘strength in diversity’, but when did you last stop to think why that is?

When we were putting the team together for our 7 Seas expedition, it occurred to me that we had gathered together a wonderfully diverse group of people. It made me feel confident that we would be able to meet all and any challenges that await us over the next four weeks. And it got me thinking just how important diversity is in nature, how crucial it is in ecosystems, and how very critical – and often critically threatened – it is in the seas I am swimming to protect.

Where there is a lack of diversity there is a lack of robustness. A healthy ecosystem is one in which different organisms live together in balance. The variations that make us biologically and genetically diverse also make us stronger and more able to withstand external threats, whether man-made, environmental, or both.

While I was thinking about this it occurred to me that about half of the members of our team are women. That’s serious strength right there. Many of the team are Muslim, working closely alongside people of many other faiths, including Christian and Jewish. The oldest person in the team is 83, the youngest is 26. Together these people bring a wealth of experience, a bundle of energy, and the kind of enthusiasm and can-do attitudes that an expedition like this can’t be without.

Although swim coach Brian Button is the oldest member of team, he still got up at 4:30a.m. every morning to meet me at Sport Science Institute in Cape Town where I did my preparation training. That’s dedication in action.

I want experience in my team. Seventy-three-year-old Major General Tim Toyne Sewell was with me on the Everest expedition in 2010, and he’ll be making all the command decisions on the ground for this one. The General always brings decisiveness, wisdom and humour to the party. He’s also as comfortable with a Nepalese Sherpa as he is with a king or queen, and you need that when you can be down in the harbour negotiating for a local fishing boat one minute and at a gala dinner the next.

We’ve got local teams in each of the cities we’re swimming from – Monte Carlo (Monaco), Zadar (Croatia), Athens (Greece), Istanbul (Turkey), Aqaba (Jordan), Rass al Hadd (Oman) and London (United Kingdom). The people on the ground are there to negotiate logistics and facilitate the swim in any way necessary. It hasn’t always been easy, since we were making final arrangements during Ramadan, but the ground team in Oman were amazing, sorting out all sorts of technical issues in the middle of their fast.

Speaking of fasting, the person who took me down from 105kg to 89kg is nutritionist Rael Koping. He didn’t starve me of course, just had me cutting back on carbs and sugar. It worked and I feel great.

There are a lot of other people doing heavy lifting behind the scenes. You won’t see them but you wouldn’t be seeing me doing what I do if it wasn’t for them. There’s my Manager Tessa Graham, who is beside me planning every step of the way. There’s researcher Emily Lewis-Brown who keeps me up to date on the science of the seas, what has been happening, what marine protected areas we’ve got and how we can improve them.

In London there’s our PR agent Louise Plank who’s had her hands full getting all the media lined up at so many different venues. You won’t see Alison Basset, but you’ll see her hand behind everything I’m wearing. That might sound vain, but the right gear is key. I don’t always go about in a swimsuit and goggles; I also need a respectable suit for functions like the concert Prince Albert invited us to on the night of the first swim. We’ll be doing a swim in the North Sea, which can get pretty cold even in summer, and one in the Arabian sea, where the desert air can feel like a hairdryer, so we have to get the kit right.

A key team member on this expedition and every other I’ve done is David Becker. David is in charge of drafting all the contracts with our partners, making sure that the obligations and responsibilities for both parties are made very clear.

And then there are people you will see, because they’ll be alongside me on the water. These include our youngest team member Ben Brown, a former world-kayaking champion whose YouTube videos are followed avidly all around the world. He’ll be filming all the action, editing it and posting it online so anyone following the expedition can feel close to the action.

Professional photographer Kelvin Trautman will be taking care of all the still images. It’s not easy getting good shots of a swimmer, no matter how spectacular the backdrop, because my head is in the water 99% of the time. But Kelvin has incredible perspective and we’re looking forward to some wonderful shots.

And I haven’t even got to organisations like UNEP, who are linking us with local initiatives and getting the message out to the broader public. They are just one of the partners that have made this expeditions possible. Partners that bring yet more diversity to the mix, and prove that unity of purpose can bring about meaningful change. My next blog will be dedicated to them.

Author: Lewis Pugh is an ocean advocate and a pioneer swimmer. In 2010 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and in 2013 he was appointed Patron of the Oceans by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Picture: (c) Kelvin Trautman