Sports scientists brace adventurer for nippy swim

12 September 2005

In August, UCT graduate Lewis Pugh took on a challenge that would make others' blood run cold. He convinced Professor Tim Noakes, director of the MRC/UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine (ESSM), to bundle up and head way north to help him become the first person to complete - limbs and life intact - a long-distance swim in the Arctic Ocean. Pugh, 35, who has already compiled a lengthy résumé of record-breaking swims over many years, had approached Noakes for advice a few months ago. "He wanted to know that he could do it." PhD student Jonathan Dugas and MSc student Ross Tucker took Pugh under their wing, and prepared him for the glacial swim by, for one, dunking him into a portable pool filled with ice and water. That appeared to do the trick. In August, Pugh took the plunge when he swam a distance of 1.07km - which qualifies as a long-distance swim - in the icy ocean around Verlegenhugen, the northernmost point of Norway's Spitsbergen Island. The island lies a mere 1 000km from the North Pole. Pugh completed his swim in -1oC water in 20 minutes and 20 seconds. By the time he finished, his body temperature had dropped to 36oC, one degree lower than is considered normal for mortals. The lowest it went to was 35.5oC, which he hit 25 minutes after his dip.

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