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Buoyed by support: Liana Smith with I Am Hope founder Mike King, whose charity she and the Southern Lakes Swimming Club are supporting this weekend

By PHILIP CHANDLER

A Queenstown swimming club’s hoping to record 180 swims during an 18-hour Lake Whakatipu swim-athon tomorrow the 18th — and has a high-profile club member jetting in to support its efforts.

Southern Lakes Swimming Club’s running the event from 4am till 10pm, and encouraging anyone to swim any length they want from its Coastguard HQ by the Frankton marina.

‘‘This event is not about distance but about getting people in the cold water for a wonderful experience,’’ club president Sheena Ashford-Tait says.

The swim-athon’s also raising money for the I Am Hope mental health charity, which club member Liana Smith’s supporting through her Triple Crown challenge.

Smith, 24, earlier this year swam Lake Taupo and Cook Strait and next month hopes to conquer Foveaux Strait.

She’s been based in Wellington since her Cook Strait swim in May, lifeguarding and training alongside others in the ‘‘volatile ocean conditions’’ she may encounter in Foveaux.

She’s flying in on Saturday afternoon and, while she’s not got a set distance in mind, says ‘‘it’d be great to get through a good 20km or so as a good aerobic phase of training pre-Christmas’’.

Smith’s thrilled the club’s also supporting Mike King’s youth mental health charity, which she’s already raised $8000-plus for.

‘‘The club helping to raise funds will be a huge help.’’

Like Ashford-Tait, she’s encouraging anyone to give it a go — ‘‘I feel like there’s probably a lot of folk who would be surprised how much they fall in love with open water swimming after a taste of it’’.

During the swim-athon there’ll be a BYO BBQ, hot drinks and a Silver Cloud spa swimmers can use for a gold coin donation.

Wānaka, Te Anau, Cromwell and Dunedin swimmers have also been invited.

For safety reasons, only club members will take the plunge during the few hours of darkness — members will also provide boat and kayak support.

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