Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 43: KIM SWIMS
JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome to Podship Earth. This is your host, Jared Blumenfeld. I grew up in England, never having learned how to swim. It took me until my mid-twenties to teach myself and even now I'm a piss poor swimmer. This week we talk swimming with one of the world's best, Kim Chambers.
JEFF CUMMINGS: This is the morning swim show. I'm your host Jeff Cummings, and it's a pleasure to have with us today in the finesse monitor, Kim Chambers. The New Zealand native completed the extraordinary feat swimming across seven major waterways, dubbed the “Ocean Seven.” She's just one of six people in the world to have done it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What is the “Ocean 7”? These are the toughest marathon swims in the world. Kim has swum from Great Britain to Northern Ireland from New Zealand's North to South Island, from the Hawaiian island of Oahu to Molokai, from Catalina Island to Los Angeles, from Honshu to Hokkido in Northern Japan, from Gibraltar to Morocco, and from Dover to France in the English Channel. But for Kim, this was just the beginning. Against nearly impossible odds, including frigid waters and great white sharks, Kim swam the 30 miles between the Farallon islands and San Francisco. Kim wasn't always a swimmer. Here's her current swimming coach, Vito Bialla, from Night Train Swimming, talking about Kim's evolution as a swimmer.
VITO BIALLA: I don't know how to describe Kim. First time we went to swimming, as she got into the water and I took off and did two strokes, and I looked behind me and was like, where's Kim? And I looked behind me and she was behind me. She was like flashing and trashing. It's like, oh my God, did we make a mistake? But she had that determination that she wants to be a swimmer. I was like, okay, well you have tiny little hands, you have tiny little feet, you know your form’s awful, you're going to need a little help. So, next time she showed up, she was just a little bit faster. That's the story of Kim. Every time she showed up, she was more intense, and she trains hard. Kim's whole sort of body language is like, bring it on. She puts so much of her love and passion into the sport and the things that she does. And that's what Kim's all about. It's so special to see her go from being a shitty swimmer too, one of the greatest in the world.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Kim and I meet up in San Francisco where she lives. I begin by asking her to recount how a very bad accident led her on an amazing odyssey to become one of the world's greatest swimmers.
KIM CHAMBERS: Eleven years ago, gosh. I hate being late, and I was late for work and at the time I used to pride myself on, you know, it's all about the outfit. So, I had these really sexy heels for work. I don't know why. But they were quite high, and I was wearing a pant suit and it was a very superficial sort of socialite life of San Francisco, of just being in Silicon Valley and wearing the right clothes, the right labels. And I slipped down the staircase and my heel got caught in my pants suit and I just careened down the staircase. I hit my head. My right leg just whacked the ceramic pot that I had put there, and I remember thinking that it was probably just a really bad bruise, but I passed out eventually.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That was a sign of something. Maybe it’s more than a bad bruise.
KIM CHAMBERS: That was when my body was like, ah, okay, show's over. And I literally, with the next memory was waking up at St. Francis Hospital here in San Francisco with my leg suspended, swollen beyond belief. And I'd already had an emergency surgery to save my leg, and the surgeon came in and he basically said, look, we managed to save your leg. You were 30 minutes from losing it from the knee down. We did save it, but we don't know if you'll ever be able to use it. But I remember looking at my leg and it was just a moment that I'll never forget because it was, it became a defining moment for me because when that surgeon said those words to me, my immediate response, my head was like, I'm not going to accept this. I was so horrified, and I just wanted to find my way out.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I think many people just give in to that moment because there's so much momentum and force pushing you towards just giving up. Like how could, how could you possibly overcome this? I mean, it, it's daunting.
KIM CHAMBERS: I learned a lot about myself. I mean it took me two years to walk again.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Which is a long time. You say two years as if it was the blink of an eye, but what did those two years look like?
KIM CHAMBERS: A lot of it sort of just passed by. I committed to doing everything that I could to remedy this. There was no guarantee, which I think was the hardest part, but I chose not to look at that. I committed myself to all the physical therapy sessions. I went four days a week from 9:00 AM to 1:30 PM, only missed one session. I was still, I don't know how I found my way through that. It was a very lonely two years as well because I just saw myself as other. I'm a perfectionist, so you want to show up perfect, right? You want to show up as you, and I just was broken. I didn't want anyone to see me. So, I was pretty much isolated myself for those two years. And yeah, it was a long two years really.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And it wasn't that long ago. I mean 11 years amazing.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So as part of that physical therapy, swimming became part of your routine.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah, I didn't grow up as a swimmer. I was, you know, a ballerina, but after those two years, I felt sort of defeated really because I'd put so much work in and I am the sort of person that I believe if you give it 110%, you're going to get what you have earned. And here I was two years, I still had this limp. I was still wearing an ankle foot orthotic, which is a big brace that goes on your leg because it helps you pick up your feet. I lost the dorsal flection because there was nerve damage and I was just tired of being stuck. I had gone through getting off all the pain meds because I hated how they made my head feel. I just wanted some control over my life and would that sort of a sense of freedom mentally and physically. And I just became drawn to the water and there was a pool here, there's a pool here in San Francisco. And I showed up there and I remember being so nervous cause the scars were just horrific. And that was all that was on my mind. I was like, people are going to be looking at my scars and this just looks awful. Like I was just disgusted with myself, which, you know, it's sad because we all go through illnesses and things but like in the water, nobody even cared about that. And I made it from one end to the next and I definitely didn't look very good, but I just could move. I could move across the water like everybody else. And you know, you're weightless in the water, which is so freeing. Shortly after swimming in the pool, these guys suggested I swim in the bay and they were kind of cute and I like, I'll do anything for a deer. And so, I was like, okay, right on, let's do this. No wetsuit. And it was November of 2009 and I couldn't believe that I'd gotten in that water because your whole body is telling you this is ridiculous. And it was this whole community there of people getting in the water without a wet suit and you could hear the sea lions barking and the seals. And every day it just, it propelled me further. And even just getting in the water was such a confidence booster because I was like, I didn't know I could do that. But I did it. Even though I wasn't swimming very far. But I did my first big swim, which was in June of 2010 and it was on my 33rd birthday. I swam from Alcatraz. I called it the first annual Q invitational escape from Alcatraz.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Nice.
KIM CHAMBERS: And my friends joined me, and I just remember being out there in the bay and I was like looking at Alcatraz behind me and San Francisco, and I was like, I can't believe I'm doing this. So, every sort of experience gave me that mental and physical boost that just nurtured me and just allowed me to heal.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, because I was inspired by you, I went on my first swim in the bay two weeks ago.
KIM CHAMBERS: Fabulous.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I had never swum that far in my life, so I swam to the flag and back.
KIM CHAMBERS: Nice.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And it took me 40 minutes. As told when I got out there, I should only have been in the water 20 minutes.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I felt my whole body shutting down. It was incredible.
KIM CHAMBERS: While you were in the water or when you got out?
JARED BLUMENFELD: When I got out.
KIM CHAMBERS: That's called afterdrop.
JARED BLUMENFELD: No one told me about this. What is afterdrop?
KIM CHAMBERS: Your body temperature keeps dropping. So, a lot of people will pass out. But yeah, 40 minutes is a long time. And that water, because I would guess it was probably, you know, pretty cold.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It was like 58. Yeah. So, then they told me I had to go into the sauna in the Dolphin Club. I couldn't take a shower because if I fainted the shower, I could crack my head. I was like, faint? I'm going to faint?
KIM CHAMBERS: And then going in the sauna, the idea is like, you are basically like a piece of meat. They're cooking you from the inside. So, you are warming up.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, all the people told me when I said I was going to be interviewing you, one, they were so excited. And two, they said, Kim, when she goes out, she swims to the opening and then she looks out towards the Greater Bay and she just yelps with happiness.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes, I go “Whoop.” I can't help it. It's just this expression of joy. But I also love talking in the water. I've had some of my best conversations out there when you're freezing, I hope that you, sense the sort of playfulness out there.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Hmm. Not so much. I do with you now. It’s like going to space.
KIM CHAMBERS: It's a slippery slope.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I mean it's a very foreign and at the same time familiar environment to be in this cold, salty. I mean we're made up of 60% water and yeah, we're pretty safe and yes, you're in the water. And I just, I was so scared of putting my head in the water fully, but then once you do it, you are kind of just in it. And it definitely felt it was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah. Well I love that. I think also my experiences as it's so primal. You get to connect with where you get to connect with yourself because you become very aware of, okay, um, how does my body feel? Am I tired? And you get to be aware of every part of your body, which is, I don't think we really get to do that in everyday world, on land and also the connection with nature, that just for me just lights up every cell in my body.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you nearly lost the use of your leg and then you go swimming and then you go into the bay. Most of us would stop there. That would be like, great, we did that. But you kept going.
KIM CHAMBERS: I didn't realize it when I joined the Dolphin club and the South End Rowing Club, I had inserted myself into a community that I think of as sort of like the secret adventure society. These people have regular jobs. They could be judges, they could be construction workers, teachers, none of that matters. I was encouraged, like people didn't think anything was crazy and I would do one swim and I’d be like, well, if I can do that, then maybe I can do that. And it just, it did become addictive because I was learning something with each of those things. I just wanted to get the next little nugget of life from each. You know, the lesson from each experience. And before I knew it, I was doing these long marathon swims and I was a marathon swimmer, I had spent two years being completely broken. And I was given this opportunity to rebuild myself. I'm like a 12-year-old out there. I'm so giddy. I'm so just excited with this wonder that it’s right here in San Francisco and it's crazy. And then you're with these people that tell you this is all okay. This is totally normal. And I was just so captivated by that. I would look at the wall with the English Channel swimmers and they were just gods to me, like the English Channel! And then they would just show up on the beach next to me and just say, oh, hey Kim. You know, ordinary people. And I just wanted to be like them. I wanted to achieve that for myself. I started off doing relay swims and I joined a team. I had an opportunity to swim the English Channel in 2011 on a relay. And my friend Neil, who climbed Mt. Everest and swam the English Channel. I remember him sitting on my floor with his dog and he's like, Kim, you know you're going to swim the English Channel in a relay. While you're there, why don't you just do a solo? And I was like, that is a great idea. I told some people at Dolphin Club and they were just horrified because it takes so much preparation, but I just was craving adventure. So, I attempted the English Channel just a few days after my relay, which was just absolute stupidity, I didn't even make it halfway across. And I got pulled onto the boat and I can't quite explain the disappointment, the embarrassment. I came back with my tail between my legs and I decided that I was going to return there as qualified as I could possibly be.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You didn't quite make it halfway across, like what does failure look like? What does it, when you said you failed and you have to go on the boat, is it exhaustion? Is it the jelly fish? Is it the cold? Like what stopped you?
KIM CHAMBERS: So, it was a combination. I was way too slow because you time these swims based on the movement of the water. So, you want to arrive at in France on an incoming flow because once the water starts ebbing, it's pushing you backwards. I was also getting very, very cold and I knew that I hadn't done it right and I sort of kicked myself for that, but it lit a fire inside me because I vowed to myself to return to finish it because I’ve got to finish what I started.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I get that you wanted to swim the channel even though it seems insane to me, but you took it to a completely crazy next level and decided to swim all seven of the toughest marathon swims in the world. And you started in New Zealand where you grew up, right?
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah. The Cook Strait.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You swam that?
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That was the first of your seven channels swims.
KIM CHAMBERS: Well, it was the first successful one. And it's interesting, we live a world where you only talk about your successes, but I think you learn a lot from your failures. And I know that to be true for myself. So, my first solo successful solo was the Cook Strait at home in New Zealand and I swam - it took me eight hours and 23 minutes, 17 miles, and I started in the South Island and I swam to North Island. I feel like everything sort of happens for a reason. And the fact that that was my first successful solo at a time when my maternal grandfather was dying, it was such a proud moment for me.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, there's an image of you swimming with the dolphins and it just looks kind of computer generated. It's hard to imagine that those dolphins were actually swimming with you.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes, there were. They were so close to me. I could hear the squeaking and so I would squeak back cause I was like, well that's how they communicate. And then they just sort of arrived and it was like, well, the cavalry has arrived. And we were doing this together. And then they're just zipping underneath me, and I was trying to catch their dorsal fins. And they of course they were too fast. They were just playing, playing with me and I love that they knew I was not an enemy. Like that experience of being so connected with nature is just so magical for me.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It seems like most of your swims are in super cold water. So, tell us about your swim in Hawaii from Oahu to Molokai.
KIM CHAMBERS: The Molokai channel is a very rough stretch of water. There's tiger sharks and Portuguese man of war. I got in at eight thirty at night at Molokai. Even at night the water is so clear and it's just like a dream. And you, you know, my fingers would go through the water and the bio-luminescence just sparkles like glitter off my fingertips and it becomes mesmerizing. And you know, when you're in the water in the beginning, your heart and the adrenaline, everything, it's so, so scary. I mean, I'm the first to say I have been terrified with every one of these swims. I don't do them because I'm not scared. It's the opposite.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You do them because you are scared.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes. Yeah, I know. Because I have learned the satisfaction, the gift of pushing through it because for the rest of your life you can say I did that. And it's not to boast about it. It's just because you are going to go through trauma again. It's inevitable in life, but there's these little treasures that you can just tuck away in your back pocket and be like, I'm going through something really difficult right now. But shit, I just, I swam from Molokai to Oahu. If I can do that, I can get through this.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It's obviously a big ridiculous hardship and incredibly strenuous and you need a lot of tenacity and all those things, but at the same time you can really see how engaged you are in being in the water.
KIM CHAMBERS: It just feels like that's where it should be. It's so primal and nothing else matters, nothing else. And you know, on land, we fill our heads with these thoughts, these worries, these concerns. Trying to impress somebody or trying to look a certain way, but there's something so vulnerable and incredibly freeing about just being in a swimsuit and being enveloped by this water and being accepted by marine mammals. And yeah, I don't know how many opportunities we really get to do that. People meditate so I guess this is kind of a meditation for me. I just don't know of any other time where I can do that, where it's just me and nature and my thoughts and you have to control your thoughts. That's a big part of the sport. Because you can very easily go into a negative space and will yourself out of it. And the boat is just, you know, 10 feet away and the rules are in marathon, open water swimming that you can't get on the boat even at night. You don't sleep on the boat, you're in the water, you cannot touch the boat. They throw you a drink bottle on a rope because you cannot have any physical contact with your crew. But I'd be lying if I said that there weren't times where I would look at the boat and all I have to do to make the pain and the discomfort go away because there's a lot of discomfort, is just touch the boat. It’s right there. That's all I have to do. I will feel better. You have to train your mind. You have to force yourself to keep going, and then when you can see land, it's just like wow. You know, so when things are in the distance, there’s that blueish hue and then the colors sort of appear, just like you, you know, you're getting close.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I remember swimming off Molokai and you can see so far down. I’ve never been in water- I mean the people I was with were doing a tiger shark tagging program
KIM CHAMBERS: Oh wow.
JARED BLUMENFELD: They said you could see 700 feet down. And like I got vertigo in the water.
KIM CHAMBERS: I'm scared of heights.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I'd never had that. And also, as the sun is refracting down and down and down, it creates these like shards of light.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes, I know exactly what you're talking about.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And they're moving as they're being refracted at different levels, and it's so trippy. I mean literally your hand is going through those shards of light, and I was like, wow, if anyone who didn't ever think about there being a higher being or something greater than us, this moment is so incredible.
KIM CHAMBERS: Mesmerizing, and uh, you know, when I swim here in the bay, I realized that I actually liked not being able to see because I'm scared of heights. And when you're at the top of the surface and you can see that far down, it's really scary. And also, you can see if something's coming. And there's been swims where I've been so afraid when the water's been so clear, I have decided I'm not going to breathe to my right because I don't want to see what's coming.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, one of the things that I find hardest is breathing. I mean, even in normal life I often forget to breathe. I'm like, oh, I just need to breathe, and swimming, you really need to think about each breath. Breathing seems like the most important thing about swimming.
KIM CHAMBERS: And it becomes very meditative, right? And I forget to breathe sometimes when I'm focused on something, I can't concentrate and breathe at the same time, but when I'm in the water, you just take one, two, three strokes and breathe. One, two, three, breathe. And it's just, it's very comforting.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Kim, you push yourself harder than anyone I've ever met. What's your secret?
KIM CHAMBERS: We are all capable of far more than we think we are. Really, it's about, you know, imagine yourself sort of like in a room sort of stretching and you are sort of stretch and you touch a wall and it moves. And with each of these experiences you stretch a little bit further. And I know so many of us are afraid to do that because many people might be afraid of what they might discover. And it's so easy to live a life where you wake up, you make a pot of coffee, you have your breakfast, you go to work, you come home, and that's safe, right? It's predictable. But is it really fulfilling? And I think that if you can just imagine doing something you didn't think you could do, and even if it does scare you, you will evolve in a completely different way. You'll find a fulfillment. You will grow as a human being. And if I can do this, anyone can do this. I think we all deserve to be the best versions of ourselves. It's easier said than done, but my experience has been one of wonderment and fulfillment, and I'm not done yet.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I can only imagine what audacious goals you're going to set for yourself next. That sense of wonderment that you described is also so contagious. I had one more question though about the Ocean Seven swims. The toughest of the lot seemed like the one from Scotland and Northern Ireland where the water was absolutely freezing and filled with jellyfish.
KIM CHAMBERS: The year I did it, it was, yes. I got my money’s worth.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I've never seen too many jellyfish, and they stung you each time you went by one. Time and time and time.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah, hundreds of times. I remember my first sting. I started the swim about four o'clock in the morning and it was dark. And so, I didn't see it coming. And the boat captain had told me leading up to the swim, you know, there'd been this unusual bloom of jellyfish. They're called lion's mane and they're gelatinous bulbs are the size of a Mini Cooper tire and their tentacles go 12 to 15 feet below the surface. They look beautiful at a distance. But he said, you know, if you get stung in the first hour, the chances of you finishing this swim are pretty minimal. And uh, I like to prove people wrong. So, I knew I got stung. I didn't tell my crew. The sea was littered with them. And they got to a point where they would blow a whistle and I would, I knew to stop and they'd be like, Kim, go left. Go left. No, Kim, go right, go right. And I'm crying because this was the last of the Ocean Seven swims for me. I like to say I left the best for last, but really it was the scariest one for me because it’s 53-degree water, it's the same distance as the English Channel, about 21 miles as the crow flies. But because of the tidal movements, you just sort of swim like an s curve. So, you probably swimming about 35 miles. And there was my own pressure of, I was about to finish my Ocean Seven, so I was going to do everything I could to make it happen and I wasn't going to let anything stop me, but it became a medical emergency. If they know that I'm having trouble breathing, this is over, they're going to put me on the boat. So, I was like, okay, I'm going to adjust my stroke to make it look like I'm doing okay. And, then I don't really remember what else happened. I know that I finished the swim because there's video footage. I do not remember finishing my Ocean Seven, a moment that was supposed to be so satisfying and special for me personally. I have no recollection. I did look like a gremlin when I finished the swim.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And you spent a while in the hospital.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes. I had two hospitalizations, one in Northern Ireland in a respiratory ward, and then I was flown back to California and put in a cardiac ward that almost killed me. I was diagnosed with pulmonary edema.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Okay. So, this part, up until now, it's like a lesson for everyone in what they can and cannot do and like pushing themselves and embracing their fears. I mean, at that point, I kind of felt like this is the part where you actually are harming yourself. And it made me worried about you.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah. I love my life. I have wonderful people in my life, and I am not doing these swims as a sort of a daredevil or with a death wish. Quite the opposite. I'm doing them to feel more alive, but I am harming myself. I have pulmonary edema. And I thought my swimming career was over, but I wasn't done. I snapped back, and I started swimming again. The Ocean Seven gave me sort of a plan and I became the third woman ever to complete that, the sixth person ever. But the swim that I completed in 2015 was very, very personal and very spiritual for me. And that was from the Farallon Islands. So, I chose that on my own and I put the crew together of trusted people. It's a very powerful realization to understand who is a negative person in your life and who is a positive person. And when you find those positive people, I mean, you just, you can be anyone you want to be. You can be the best. Yeah. The very best version of yourself. And there are negative people. I've been affected by them. I don't have a thick skin, but I've learned to let go of trying to please them or have them in my life. And it's rewarded me with so much goodness. And it's tough to do that, but it's rewarding. So, I challenge people to really think about how they want to craft their life because it's your own, it's your life, no one else's. And everyone is a unique person. And you know, I do feel like things happen for a reason but for the most part, we're in the driver's seat of our lives and it's a pretty amazing feeling to know that for yourself.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Here's a clip of the next adventure that you took on.
NEWS: There's a new milestone in extreme swimming this morning. For the first time, a woman completed the grueling swim from the Farallon islands to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I've always, always wanted to go to the Farallon Islands.
KIM CHAMBERS: I love those islands. They are still within San Francisco. They're 30 miles away, which is, trust me, a long 30 miles, and it's this jagged outcropping of just rocks that appear out of nowhere. But the marine life there is just incredible. And they have these seals that just come up to me within a foot away and just look at me and their eyelashes and they're just again accepting me as a friend. And so, it's become this very spiritual place for me. And I mean every time I'm out there, it's so scary, but it's so exciting.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I think that most would be thinking about sharks, not the seals, when they were jumping in the water at the Farallon’s.
KIM CHAMBERS: But they weren't interested in me. And it just feels like such a huge honor because I know they could feel me. I could feel them. It's just, even to this day, I just, I can remember that feeling when I got in the water and I was very careful to just, I didn't want to make a splash cause I was like, I don't want to draw attention to myself. Even though you could hear the gurgling of the engine of the boat. I mean, it was clear that we were there, but I made a conscious effort to just slip in the water and it's like this adrenaline again, but I love adrenaline. It makes you do crazy things.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I was thinking there's this duality in what you do. One is the experience and the other is the accomplishment.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And you’re doing it, you get both out of that, right? And sometimes maybe you wouldn't have the experience if you didn't set that goal to accomplish something. Like how do you balance those out?
KIM CHAMBERS: Well, the accomplishment is again, like I said, sort of tucking this little treasure in your back pocket. It's very personal, but the most important part from my journey, with these swims, has been the emotional connection, the spiritual connection because they have not just been athletic events and I have experienced more from the emotional part of it than the accomplishment. You know, when I get out of the water or the end of a swim and I'm in so much pain and I'm cold, I am a different person from the one who jumped off the boat in the middle of the night and slipped into that water 17 hours before. I just, I feel so rich from these experiences. Just trying something you didn't think you could do, and it could just be very, very simple or doing something that scares you, that bothers you. Life is just so amazing if you just surrender to the possibility of being. We've only got one shot at it this one life and we are all guaranteed exactly the same ending. It's just what you want to do before that because we're all going to die. It's just a question of when and how, and we're given an opportunity every day to wake up and live the best life because it's only one life.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Part of the cool thing about marathon swimming, there aren’t different classes for men or women.
KIM CHAMBERS: So, when you swim the English Channel, there's not a woman's division or men's division. And I love that. I love that it's the same playing field. I feel privileged to be able to show young girls that you can be feminine, and you can go head to head with men. I think there's so much power in that. This is not a glamorous sport. You know, if you took a lineup of marathon swimmers and you were asked to pick who was a world class athlete, I guarantee you'd never pick any of them. It's not about what your body looks like, it's about achieving something for yourself.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You came out of adversity and injury and then you do these amazing things and now you went back into that cycle and now you're coming out of it again. Tell us about where you've been.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah, I seem to have these great highs and very deep lows, but it makes you appreciate things so much more. This was my summer of Guillain-Barre. It causes your body to turn on itself and attack the protective sheath of your nerves. It's called the myelin sheath over your nerves. And they don't know how I got it. There's some possibility that there’s a connection to the Zika virus, but I wasn't sick. I woke up on May the sixth of this year, 2018 and my left foot just felt like it was asleep. It was completely numb. And I was like, Oh, I've just slept on it wrong. It's going to wake up. And I'm hitting it and stretching and then I'm sort of, you know, touching my lower leg and my left calf is, I can't feel anything. And within a matter of hours, I am watching my body become paralyzed. This is very, very fresh for me to talk about. It's only been six months, but I watched with horror. It was almost like there was some alien being in my body because the paralysis jumped over to my right leg. They took me straight in and put me in the ICU.
JARED BLUMENFELD: They probably have your name there.
KIM CHAMBERS: You know, the doctor who first saw me, she's like, oh Kim, I remember I treated you after your Farallon swim. I was like, Yup. So, I was treated with a five-day nonstop IV of antibodies, and no pain whatsoever.
JARED BLUMENFELD: The reason you weren't in pain as you were being paralyzed, right? The upside is no pain. The downside is you couldn't feel anything or move your body.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah. You know, you're right. Yeah.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How close were you to this being permanent?
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah, so this is probably my closest call. So, it was moving up my body, and the next part was going to be my respiratory system, which was game over. So, they think that was about less than 60 minutes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Did you mention to them, Oh, I've been stung by jellyfish a hundred times?
KIM CHAMBERS: Yeah, they knew.
JARED BLUMENFELD: They didn't see any correlation.So, you've had to recuperate.
KIM CHAMBERS: Yes. And so, I am here today with you, not wearing my braces. So, I was in the ICU, then I was in a rehab hospital. I was off work for five months. I was in a wheelchair. Then I progressed to wearing leg braces to help me pick up my feet. And I had a walker with the handbrakes on the seat and it was really fancy. And when I would go along my street here in San Francisco, there would be 80-year-olds and we'd just sit and look at each other with sort of a knowing smile. And I think there were jealous because I had flames on my walker. And to go back to my leg injury 10 years ago when I hid myself away, this time, I owned it. This time, I didn't hide away. I'd be wearing short shorts, a little tank top, my leg braces and my walker. And there was a lot of pride for me even though I was in so much suffering from so much trauma. But I carried myself with a sense of pride. You've gone through something that is life changing. I'm more motivated than ever to continue what I was doing. and this has been a big knock for me because I'm not still not out of the woods. I get neurological tremors. I still can't walk properly, but I have the maturity from my last, taken me two years to walk in last time. Now it's only taken me six months. So, I'm getting better at learning to walk again as an adult. So, I have been armed this summer with a maturity based on those other experiences to know that the light is at the end of the tunnel.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Thank you so much to Kim Chambers for her incredible energy, drive, tenacity, and for the joy she shared with us today. Kim is on the road to recovery and has some amazing plans for the future. Kim showed me how determination and discipline can help us overcome incredible obstacles in the pursuit of realizing our dreams. If you like the podcast, you'll love the movie “Kim Swims,” which is now available on the iTunes store. I've been scared swimming for much of my life, and Kim motivated me to take my only per faith and take the plunge into San Francisco Bay. It was ridiculously exhilarating and terrifying, and I can't wait to do it again. Next week, we look at how imports of everything from toys to refrigerators to clothes are taking their toll on efforts to clean up the air. In Los Angeles, we visit with the nation's largest port to meet with community activists, truck drivers, labor leaders, and visit with the world's first zero emissions container yard. Thank you so much for being part of the Podship Earth journey. From the entire Podship Earth crew, sound engineer Rob Speight, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer David Kahn, me, Jared Blumenfeld, have a great week.