After nearly losing her leg in a freak accident, San Francisco resident Kim Chambers took up swimming to recover her ability to walk. She spent the next few years conquering obstacles on dry land and in the sea, completing the Oceans Seven swims. The former ballerina from New Zealand 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 you think of a ballerina, you think of someone who is anorexic and doesn’t have any body fat. You don’t think of a long distance swimmer.
KC: I have video of me getting into the bay in November of 2009, I’m 5’ 10” and I probably wasn’t even 110 pounds. I looked like a 12-year-old girl. Ballet is a sport but there was no concept of snacking or really appreciating your body. You just suffered. You take your feet out of your point shoes and they’d be dripping with blood. It was a very cutthroat sport. It’s been a huge personal transformation to shift gears mentally as a woman to a point now where I think of my body as a vessel that has to be as seaworthy as possible. I think I was 190, 195 pounds when I swam the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland. A lot of that was muscle. With endurance swimming, you build up really bulky muscle. I wasn’t afraid of a little fat. I have a very fast metabolism; I’ve dropped down 30 pounds from that easily. Having this appreciation for your body, this body got me to France, this body got me to Africa. How cool is that? A ballerina couldn’t do that.
MD: Were you a professional ballerina?
KC: No, I studied at the Royal Academy of Dance and they have a program where you sit exams every year as you move up through the grade. I travelled around the country performing on stage and in competitions. I became qualified to teach, I sat my last exam when I was 17 just before I came to America. That was more to have as a personal achievement; I knew I didn’t want to be a ballerina for the rest of my life. I had a growth spurt so I was pretty tall. It’s something I completed and once you walk away from that world you can’t insert yourself back into it. It’s really tough.
MD: The ballet training must have helped you with swimming because you’ve learned a graceful way to move…
KC: Yeah and an awareness of what your body can do for you. Open water swimming is not a sexy, glamorous sport. You put on weight, you put lanoline under your armpits, between your legs, behind your neck to stop chafing. To make that shift is something pretty special.
Next up: Kim juggles training with her job and manages to do charity work. Stay tuned…