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: How were you photographed for the film? Was there a camera in the water?
KC: The director Kate Webber was in the boat; I didn’t want any distractions because of the risks of sharks. You are allowed a pace swimmer near you, but not in front of you so that you can’t draft off them. I was pretty adamant I didn’t want anybody in the water until we were out of that dangerous ecosystem. I did have pace swimmers in the daylight. I’ve done separate filming with Kate, with an underwater specialist in the pool. When I saw the trailer, you really didn’t know it was I. But what was pretty special for me is that they get it. It’s been this transformative experience for me. It’s not about being a world record swimmer; it’s a deeper journey. This is a sport where you don’t get a gold medal; you don’t get a cash prize. You have to be in this for the right reasons.
MD: It’s a very spiritual journey.
KC: Spiritual. Absolutely. I just feel profoundly changed. It does mess with the rest of your life. You’re living at such a primal level. It makes being back on land a little challenging because it’s predictable to a certain degree. There’s nothing quite like an adventure on the sea.
MD: It’s dangerous.
KC: It is dangerous. You pick your crew very carefully. First and foremost they have to be very positive people. I did have a surgeon on the boat for this last swim, a dear friend of mine. Yeah, you have to think about these things.
MD: Who was your pilot?
KC: Well there is only one person in the world that I would trust to pilot me for the Farallones and that’s Vito Bialla, my boat captain. Not only is he an accomplished endurance athlete, he single-handedly sailed around the Farallones. I trust him with my life and he knows that. There was no question. He runs the Farallones Islands Swimming Federation. But there are only five of us that have done the swim. It’s not like people are lining up out the door to do this swim. He watched me like a hawk. When you get hypothermia your hips start to drop. Anytime I would catch him looking at me I would think ok I’ve got to get my hips up, kick, kick, kick, kick, you’re not pulling me!
MD: What do you feel like after swimming 30 miles?
KC: Well, you’re a little beat up. It’s a very strange feeling. I just had my twentieth surgery; I’m a little accident-prone. It’s like coming out of general anesthesia. You feel very vulnerable. Physically and mentally spent. It’s a really amazing feeling because you know that you have given something your all, like absolutely every ounce of your being. And so you are just spent. Yeah, you go through these different phases following a swim mentally and physically. It’s a really amazing journey. I just feel like my soul is so rich.
MD: Where do you go from here?
KC: People say; you’re done now right, you’ve reached your pinnacle. I’m just so drawn to being out there and playing with the unknown. It’s so thrilling. You get to feel emotions at such a heightened sense that you don’t get in a regular day. I love sharing this with people. Showing what’s possible. The journey has only just begun.
Stay tuned for information on the premiere of “Kim Swims.”