Real Life

Kiwi’s search for love

Record-breaking babe Kim is ready to go the distance

Feisty Kiwi endurance swimmer Kim Chambers has swum in shark-infested waters, nearly had her legs amputated and recently smashed two world records, but the next big challenge for the 38-year old is finding love!

Last year, Te Kuiti-born Kim became the first female in the world to swim the 48km from California’s Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a stretch of water that has the highest concentration of great white sharks in the world.

Then, just weeks later, she successfully completed the longest continuous swim in history, joining six other swimmers for a 500km relay over five days and nights – a feat that raised $45,000 for a young man injured in a random San Fran street shooting. And recently, Kim also became only the sixth-ever person to finish the Oceans Seven Challenge, swimming seven of the world’s most dangerous sea crossings.

Although she has lived in the United States since she moved there to study art history and computers at age 17, Kim considers herself a proud Kiwi. “I wear the New Zealand flag on my cap with pride,” she grins. “My grandfather was an Anzac, I come from small-town New Zealand and my parents are sheep farmers.” Amazingly, Kim only began ocean swimming six years ago, after a 2007 accident that almost cost her the use of her legs. She recalls, “My whole life changed in an instant. I slipped going down a stair, and I hit my leg and my head on a ceramic pot.”

The blood flow to her right leg was cut off and, post-surgery, Kim was told she was 30 minutes from having it amputated. She was also warned she may never walk unassisted again. Despite being “completely incapacitated” after the fall, Kim vowed she would prove the doctors wrong and spent two years learning to walk again. “It’s amazing – what I thought was the worst thing to happen to me actually turned out to be the best,” she tells. “I had a second chance.”

Kim’s number-one passion is swimming the waters around her adopted home of San Francisco.

Oceans of talent

Kim began swimming at a pool as part of her rehabilitation and eventually plucked up the courage to begin ocean swimming. She explains, “I saw people swim in San Francisco Bay and I thought, ‘These people are crazy – it’s freezing!’ It was winter then, but I jumped in and was hooked.” In 2011, Kim joined a group who swim long distances to raise money for worthy causes, including funding technology to help those in wheelchairs walk again. It has transformed her life.

“I’m filled with gratitude. I was a ballerina for 15 years, but I never appreciated my body. I was always striving for an unattainable thinness, but now I feed my body to gain weight to use as insulation because I don’t wear a wetsuit. I see my body’s value and that’s very empowering as a woman.” Ocean swimming can be a dangerous endeavour, Kim admits, but it makes her feel alive. “You are not protected from the elements – it’s life or death. If you stop in the water, you’ll get hypothermia.”

The gutsy endurance swimmer says when she’s in the ocean, she feels “like a modern-day explorer”.

The day before her pioneering swim to the Golden Gate Bridge, a seal was found nearby with its head bitten off. But Kim insists she doesn’t have a death wish. “I love my life! When you are scared of something, you have to do it because the rewards far outweigh the risks. Being out there in the ocean, I feel like a modern-day explorer.

My heart sings when I’m out there and I feel an aliveness that I don’t get anywhere else. My heart races just thinking about it.” Kim gets up at 4am most mornings for a training session in the pool, then follows this with a swim in San Francisco Bay, all before her day begins as a communications manager for software company Adobe.

“It has to be all-consuming,” she says. “I’m terrified of failure and of not living up to my expectations. I get my training in before work and do all my swims for charity in my holidays.”

Her parents couldn’t be prouder of her achievements, but they do worry about their US-based daughter. Kim laughs, “My dad wants me to take up golf and my mother wants me to marry a Kiwi!” Her love life has taken a back seat to swimming, but Kim says she’s still looking for “that special man”. She grins, “I want to get married, but I live by the saying, ‘Trust in the timing of your life.’ I want to find someone who shares my love for adventure.”

In the meantime, Kim has more record-breaking swims planned for the future and wants to continue pushing the boundaries. “I’m just a girl from a farm in New Zealand,” she says. “I want to empower young Kiwi girls to achieve their dreams and believe that anything is possible.”

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