Who Is Kim Chambers?

Kim Chambers - Open Water Marathon Swimmer - TEDx Speaker - world record breaking athlete

I'm an avid sushi eater, I never met a dog I didn't like, and despite getting up at 4am everyday I'm actually not a night owl. 

Most days you can find me running into work at Adobe with wet hair after a morning swim in the San Francisco Bay. My downtime is spent dreaming about my next adventure.

Who would have thought that this proud Kiwi girl from a sheep farm in New Zealand could be so adventurous? I never saw this path laid out for me, but I'm so excited to be on it. 

Record-breaking athlete, feminist and dreamer. I hope my story helps you find the courage to face your own fears and go live a little bigger.

 

How I Got Here

I didn't grow up as a swimmer, my passion was ballet.

 

Despite being raised on a sheep farm surrounded by animals, my dream was to dance. However, as a college student at UC Berkeley, my growth spurt to a height of 5' 10" meant that dream was over. Instead, this landed me with a spot on the rowing team.

I had never rowed a day in my life, and trust me, as a graceful and elegant ballerina, this was quite the education. Rowing was doable and I made some great life-long friends, but I learned very early on that without passion, that commitment and drive only take you so far. 

After graduating with a degree I really did not know what to do with, I spent a brief stint in the advertising industry in San Francisco. I had a job and a boyfriend - life was pretty good I thought - after all wasn't this what was supposed to happen?

But something deep inside me was missing. I thought a Master degree would solve that. 

After graduating again from Berkeley, this time with a Masters of Science in hand, I felt ready to take on the world. The beginning of the internet era, this was an exciting time to work in the technology industry.

Fast forward a few years, having worked for a some big technology firms, I was very much the corporate woman - high heels and all - and I made enough money to think I was invincible. I had just turned 30, life was great. 

Then, in an instant, my life was turned upside down. Rushing to a job one morning, I tripped on my heels and fell down a staircase. Several hours later I woke up in hospital bed.


A Blessing in Disguise

"We saved your leg, but we don't know what if any functionality you'll ever have."

 

This was to be was my new reality, and I was completely unprepared. Who wouldn't be?

Diagnosed with a rare condition called Acute Compartment Syndrome, the surgeons saved my right leg with just 30 minutes to spare. Having been a ballerina, a rower and a self-confessed gym rat, physical movement was so much a part of my life.

Up until this point, I had thrived on order and predicability, so the thought of facing the unknown was absolutely devastating and scary. I was given a dire prognosis of a 1% chance of walking unassisted. In other words, basically zero functionality. My life as I knew it, was over. 

I could have gone down a really deep dark hole, and there were some bad times for sure, but something inside of me decided this prediction was unacceptable. I didn't know how or when, but I was determined to prove all the doctors wrong. I was resolved to take back control of my life. 

Physical therapy was my new full-time job, but after two years of hard work, I was still severely disabled. I still walked with a limp and my right foot only worked with aid of a specially made orthotic that fit in my sneakers and hid under my pants. High heels were a distant memory, and honestly, I did not care. 

Despite having horrific scars on my leg, I began to crave a freedom of movement so much that I was willing to show up in a swimsuit at a local pool. Weightless in the water, I moved across the pool just like everyone else. Incompetent as I may have been (I didn't grow up swimming), I no longer felt disabled and I could finally move. It was pure magic; I felt free for the first time in years. My scars became completely insignificant. 

A few months later, in November 2009 I was challenged to swim in the chilly 53 water of the San Francisco Bay. Not one to shy away from a dare, I took the plunge. Crazy as it may seem, in that moment I felt something stir inside me. I didn't really know what it was or where it was going to take me, but that moment ignited something in my soul. I felt drawn to the water. 

 

 
 

My Swims

 

Who would have thought that my injury was the best thing that ever happened to me?

Without being consciously aware at the time, this was the beginning of a transformative journey - physically, mentally and spiritually - that would take me around the world in a way I could have never imagined.

As I am now able to reflect on that first swim in the Bay just eight years ago, with no swimming prowess at all, I know that anything is possible. I have been very fortunate that what began as a quest to heal from a physical injury took on a life of its own.

Each of my swims over the years have been far more than simply athletic events. I have found a sense of myself that did not exist before. Maybe I was just too young or, as crazy as it sounds, maybe I needed to have my life completely derailed for me to be able to develop an inner strength and a sense purpose. Now I can say that without a doubt, that accident was the best thing that ever happened to me

I sit here today with a full heart, grateful for all the love and support along the way. Without the encouragement of my family and friends, and indeed even complete strangers who said a kind word and wished me luck, none of this would have been possible. There is nothing solo about a solo swim.

So you might ask: where to from here? Well, always up for a challenge, my life is constantly evolving.

I have had a glimpse at what is possible and I know my journey is not over yet. Life is for living, and I intend to live it to its fullest extent. I hope this inspires you to stay tuned.


Follow along on my latest adventures.