by Brad Morgan

Not just fish in the sea

Midmar Mile record holder swims for charity

Midmar mile a boost for charity
Champion swimmer raises funds for charity

Seven-time champion Keri-anne Payne returned to the Midmar Mile for the 12th time on the weekend of 8 and 9 February. She was not just challenging for the women's title, however, this time her visit was all about charity. The South African-born British star, a two-time 10 kilometre open water swimming world champion, was part of the Eight Mile Club, which raises funds for various charities.

She swam for two charities, supporting the Pink Drive's fight against breast cancer in South Africa and the UK educational charity, Skill Force, which partners with schools, and draws on the skills and experiences of predominantly ex- Forces personnel, to inspire young people to succeed.

"Midmar is part of my history and a race I love doing," she said of her loyal support of the world's largest open water swimming event. "Midmar was the competition we used to do as a family when we lived in South Africa, so I have many, many fond memories of the swim and will keep coming back as long as they will keep having me."

While still living in South Africa, Payne won her first Midmar Mile title in the girls' under-13 category in 2001. It was a win that she still regards as a highlight of her swimming career, but, she said, the Midmar Mile has been the source of many other personal highlights.

"Every year at Midmar has had highlights for me, whether it was the year that I first came back from moving to the UK, or the year that British Swimming brought out a team to do the race, or the year I got the record for the Mile.

"My best Midmar, though, has to be the year I equalled the record for number of wins with Natasha Figge [now Panzera, with six victories]. I will always remember my brother Mark and father Jim talking about her when I was about 12 saying 'She is amazing. I can't see anyone beating her record!' That was the year I decided that I would try my best to do that!"

Payne's hold on the title, which she had held since 2008, was broken last year when Ashley Twichell became the first American to claim the honours. Payne had taken a break after the London Olympics where she narrowly missed out on a medal after finishing in a heart-breaking fourth place and was not in prime form, but she was still good enough for second place.

"It was a really interesting year for me," she recalled, looking back on 2013. "Midmar 2013 was the starting point last year to step back into the open water racing world and I had decided that I wanted to make it back to World Championship form and compete in Barcelona ." Payne placed 14th, just six-and-a-half seconds behind gold medallist Poliana Okimoto.

After competing in Barcelona, it was time to rethink her approach. "After the World Champs I took some time out and decided that I needed a break from the sport and had time to really think about what it is that I want to do. After a lot of thought and discussions with my coach, we decided to put a plan in place to get me in the best form possible for Rio 2016, which has meant that this season - September 2013 to September 2014 - I have taken a year out of elite competitive racing marathon swimming.

For Payne, who has dedicated so much of her time to competition, the new year is an exciting time filled with very different goals than those she has held onto in recent times. "2014 is a year for me to recuperate the mind and body and do things I have not been able to do for many years," she explained. "An example was being able head out to San Fransisco and Brazil for 'fun' competitions, and I am finally able this year to compete in my first Eight Mile Midmar, which I am very excited about!"

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