San Francisco resident Kim Chambers recently became the first woman to swim the 30 miles from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge. The historic effort inspired a documentary film, “Kim Swims” which will be released next spring. atombash.com caught up with Kim on November 8.
Mark Davis: When and how did you start swimming?
KC: I started swimming six years ago. I literally fell into the sport; I almost had my leg amputated eight years ago.
MD: What happened?
KC: I had a freak fall down a staircase where I was living. I was on my way to work; I had very high heels on. I slipped, I hit my head and I also hit my right leg with such force, that I actually didn’t break any bones but it caused a condition called acute compartment syndrome. My leg started to swell. I have a very high pain tolerance; I was a ballerina for fifteen years in New Zealand and used to pain. I didn’t really realize how bad it was. I passed out. I woke up in the hospital post-surgery where they operated on me to release the pressure. It’s called a fasciotomy; I have two major incisions on each side of my calf muscle. I could not believe that had happened to me. In all the years of being a ballerina I’ve never even sprained my ankle. I spent many weeks in the hospital. I had four major surgeries. I spent nine months on crutches and two years rehabilitating my leg. They told me I was thirty minutes from amputation. They said we did save your leg but we don’t really know if you’ll ever be able to use it. That was a defining moment in my life because I decided then and there I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was going to prove them wrong. I could not accept that as my life. That just lit a fire and it became my mission to walk again. Even two years later I still walked with a limp and that was why I got into swimming because I felt very stuck mentally and physically. I started swimming laps at Golden Gateway down along the Embarcadero. One day, two guys dared me to swim in the bay.
MD: Who were these guys?
KC: Two guys at the pool who were my very good friends, they were open water swimmers and they said hey do you want to do this and I said you’re mad, nobody swims in the San Francisco Bay. This was November of 2009 and I’ve been in the Bay Area since 1995. The San Francisco Bay seemed cold, why would you get in the water there. It was a bit of a dare and I’m always up for a dare. They said they never saw anyone smile as much as I did. It just hooked me immediately and I wasn’t afraid I just wanted to try this. I joined both the Dolphin and the South End Rowing clubs and six months later I swam from Alcatraz for the first time. It ignited something in me that I didn’t know I had. If you had asked me a few years ago I’d be doing this, I’d think you were crazy. I wasn’t a swimmer; I’m a total impostor in the sport.
Next up: How Kim adapted her ballerina body to open water swimming. Stay tuned…