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Marathon effort: Queenstown's Liana Smith who's about to embark on the first of three marathon swims comprising the Triple Crown

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Queenstown swimmer Liana Smith’s become a bit of a pro at tumble turns.

Ironically, that’s not a skill she’ll be needing next week as she attempts the 40.3km Lake Taupo marathon swim, the first of three planned swims comprising the ‘Triple Crown’ — the other two being Cook Strait (26km) and Foveaux Strait (28km).

Smith, 24, a Southern Lakes Swimming Club member, has spent hours training in the 25-metre lap pool at Queenstown’s Alpine Aqualand — 40 laps is the equivalent to one kilometre, and her biggest training sessions have been 13km, or 520 laps.

‘‘You expect to have a bit of a base of mileage behind you if you’re trying to embark on this type of thing, so it really comes down to being able to maintain pace and keep yourself swimming at a zero oxygen deficit, more like an anaerobic threshold.

‘‘So I’ve just been doing a whole lot of pace work in the pool, really, which in Queenstown was pretty rough being a 25m.’’

Making her attempt even more remarkable is the journey she’s been on to get there.

The former competitive swimmer, originally from Glenbrook, a rural area near Auckland, was a New Zealand junior record-holder and on the NZ team for both sprint and open water freestyle.

Having been used to training up to 26 hours a week, when she was just 17 she discovered she needed spinal fusion surgery, having fractured both sides of her back.

It was a combination of ‘‘bad coincidences’’, including genetics, over- training and misdiagnosis, she says.

‘‘I’d actually been swimming for three years with one side fractured … it was pretty sore and I’d go and get treatment, but just kept getting treated for muscular pain until the other side fractured.’’

Specialists discovered the site where the initial fracture had been had ‘‘completely split off and become its own bone entity’’.

‘‘The fusion was the only way to go.’’

Inspirational: Liana Smith

Following surgery, Smith was on complete bed rest for about six weeks before she had to re-learn basic motor skills, like walking.

‘‘I was walking around with a cane and a walker for a wee while, which is not super-great for your mental health after going from being an athlete to having to get your mum to help put socks on.

‘‘It was definitely a very weird time in my life, but it put me on a different track and I think it’s shaped me into who I am in a massive way.’’

Having overcome her own mental health battles as a result of the injury, Smith’s decided to double-down on the Triple Crown, establishing a Givealittle page to raise money for the I Am Hope charity, established by comedian Mike King to provide mental health support to
Kiwi kids.

‘‘I know full well how necessary the support I Am Hope provides for young Kiwis to help get them back out there finding themselves again and following their passions,’’ she says.

Smith’s leading by example in that regard.

She plans on completing the Lake Taupo swim — considered the hardest of all three — some time between next Tuesday and Friday.

She’ll be accompanied by a boat carrying her support crew with information on navigation and weather, and an IRB which’ll be a couple of metres away from her at all times, helping her navigate and holding her food.

All going well, she hopes to knock it off in 12 hours.

‘‘That would be pretty ideal for me, that’s holding 4km an hour — that’s a pretty good pace, but once you get into a nice flow state, which you’re sort of forced to really when you’re just swimming, it just sort of comes.

‘‘But at the end of the day I just want to finish.’’

During the swim she can be live-tracked on Facebook or Insta through ‘Swim for Something’.

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tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz