In 2007 Kim Chambers slipped down the stairs in her home in San Francisco, hit her right leg and woke up in hospital the next day to be told she’d been 30 minutes from having it amputated.
The doctors told her they’d saved her leg but “we don't know what if any functionality you'll ever have.”
Seven years later, Chambers became the first woman to swim what is often described as the toughest swim in the world, a stretch of cold, shark-inhabited waters between the Farallone Islands, a remote outcrop off the San Francisco coast, to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The 30-mile swim took 17 hours and 12 minutes and she made global headlines. Outside Magazine dubbed her “the world’s most badass swimmer”. A documentary film about the achievement, Kim Swims, will be released globally in 2018.
You can listen to Kim discuss the film and her extraordinary swimming journey in this recent interview:
This interview comes courtesy of Radio New Zealand.
Chambers had been physically active before being told by doctors she probably wouldn’t walk again without assistance. It turned out to be a red rag to a bull or, in this case, to a former ballerina and rower from New Zealand.
After multiple surgeries and two years of physical therapy Chapman had learned to walk again, but felt “physically and mentally stuck”. She started swimming at her local pool, although she’d never been much of a swimmer and was self-conscious about the huge scar on her right thigh. “But I craved the sense of movement more.”
It was there that she met members of the Dolphin Club, who dared her to join them for an open water swim in the San Francisco Bay. This was not for the faint-hearted; apart from the chilly temperature and the unpredictable water currents, the Bay has the highest population of sharks, mile for mile, in the world.
It turned out to be the start of an ongoing adventure. Swimming in the Bay, only a 10-minute walk from her home, means swimming with seals and sea lions, with pelicans flying overhead. “Everyone has different reasons for why they swim out there but it’s really this connection with nature before you go about your day.”
Open water swimming has fulfilled her in a way that she had never imagined. So has marathon swimming, although it has also demanded remarkable endurance.
The year before swimming the Farallones, Chambers became the third woman to complete the Ocean's Seven challenge. That culminated in the North Channel swim, between Ireland and Scotland where, for almost the entire swim, she was stung hundreds of times by jellyfish. She was often in pain, and began to have trouble breathing. “But when you’re locked into a goal it’s amazing what you’ll do to keep going.”
She finished the swim in 13 hours and six minutes, and was then taken to hospital and diagnosed with pulmonary edema. She could have died. Instead she went on to swim the Farallones to Golden Gate Bridge.
“I love setting big goals,” she says. “I love this journey of trying something that I didn’t think I could do... just pushing yourself to do something that might be a little uncomfortable, a little scary.”
“I can guarantee that if you try it, you’ll discover some amazing gifts ... my heart feels pretty full.”
This content is published under licence and in partnership with Radio New Zealand, one of the world’s foremost public broadcasters. To learn more go to radionz.co.nz