10 Aug 2023 5 min read

Lewis Pugh's Hudson River swim: how to be resilient

By Lewis Pugh

There is strength in diversity. This simple truth has been applied to business, and ever more urgently to the environmental sphere. It also applies, as I've been repeatedly reminded, to physical training.


This year, I’ve been training to swim down the entire 507km length of the Hudson River, from its source in the wilderness of the Adirondack mountains to its end at New York City. The swim will take a full month. It will be unlike any swim I’ve done before, and presents a host of challenges.

All-terrain swim

The Hudson is a mighty river, but like all rivers it starts as a trickle, building up volume and speed as it goes. I’ll be starting at the source, and will need to make my way on foot until there is enough water to swim in. Because I swim unassisted – with no equipment other than a Speedo, cap and goggles – I’ll need to get out and run or walk around the more dangerous rapids.

I won’t be able to avoid the sections where factories once spewed toxins into the river. There are places where raw sewage is still discharged, especially after heavy rains. At Indian Point the river runs past a decommissioned nuclear power plant. Radiation is a serious concern.

This is not my first river swim, but I sincerely hope it will be first where I don’t get severely ill from river pollutants, as I did in the Thames and Brazil’s Paraná River.

The final third of the river is tidal, so I’ll have to work with the push and pull from the Atlantic Ocean, as well as increasingly busy water traffic as we near one of the world’s busiest cities.

These are just some of the conditions I’ve been training for, which got me thinking of my body as an ecosystem.

The physical ecosystem

For any ecosystem to function optimally, it needs to be clean, healthy, fit and well-balanced. In a word, resilient.

The human body is no different.

One of my top training tips for swimmers is to get out of the pool and into a river or the sea. In open water there are currents, obstacles and fluctuations in temperature, all of which challenge your body. There is wildlife. I’ll be encountering all of these on the Hudson.

My training regime included swimming, running, kayaking (I had a lot of fun chasing the ferry across the Tamar River in Plymouth) and weight training – all to work different muscles to make me fit enough, and resilient enough, to handle a variety of conditions.

Nutrition is key. Challenging your body in different ways activates different muscles and nerves, which adapt, and then need to recover. I eat right to maintain my energy levels during training, and to help my body to recover afterwards.

Variety doesn’t just help the body adapt, it also prevents injury. The same is true for a river ecosystem. An ecosystem needs diversity to be robust, to help deal with the kinds of challenges created by severe weather conditions.

Healthy diversity helps a river absorb water in a flood, and to release water in a drought. It enables ecosystems to recover after an extreme event. It ensures that mineral-rich sediment and nutrients – and not toxins – reach the seas, feeding estuaries and fish stocks.

The Hudson story

The Hudson was once one of the world’s most degraded rivers. Today it is home to bald eagles and black bears, to eels, beavers and badgers, to sturgeon and the Hudson River water nymph, a lacy aquatic plant that grows nowhere else on earth. This wildlife is not confined to the river’s pristine upper regions, but all along the river’s journey to the sea, wherever biodiversity has been protected.

Which bring me to the reason for this swim.

I specifically chose the Hudson because of the environmental progress that’s been made restoring this iconic waterway. There is still much work to do, but the improvements have been significant. I believe the work done here can set an example for restoring rivers around the world.

Clean rivers are essential in the fight for global sustainability. Without healthy rivers, we cannot hope to fulfil the Convention on Biodiversity commitment made at COP15 in Montreal late last year, which pledged to protect 30% of the world’s land and oceans. Rivers are the threads that sew together land and oceans. They are Earth’s arteries, bringing the water and nutrients necessary for life. In the same way that we need to keep our own arteries unclogged in order to stay healthy, we need to keep the rivers free flowing and unpolluted.

Biodiversity builds resilience

Resilience is what I need to complete this swim, and resilience is what I will be swimming for. I will be calling on the world to restore its degraded river systems so that they can be robust and resilient to the challenges to come.

Once again I am proud to be partnering with LGIM for this swim. They understand the importance of biodiversity for a healthy planet, and are committed to engaging robustly with other companies to act sustainably and responsibly.

During this swim I will showcase how communities have come together to make a difference in restoring their degraded waterways. I’ll be reminding people about how much work still needs to be done on the Hudson river, and other rivers around the world.

I will end this swim in New York, when world leaders will be gathered for the UN General Assembly. I will deliver a message to them about the critical importance of healthy river systems for the health of our oceans, and that of our planet.

I believe it is the best way to build resilience for each and every one of us.

Lewis Pugh

Endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans

Lewis Pugh swims in the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth to call for their protection. He was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. He was also the first to swim across the North Pole and the first to swim the full length of the English Channel. Lewis has been instrumental in protecting over two million km² of vulnerable ocean – an area larger than Western Europe. At LGIM, we are united with Lewis in our aim to tackle the climate crisis. We believe inaction is not an option and are proud to support Lewis’ efforts to raise awareness and push for positive change.

Lewis Pugh