Liana Smith is a local Glenbrook girl in the middle of a truly once in a life time type of adventure, aiming to complete an Ultra Marathon swimming challenge known as the Triple Crown, and joining an elite group of only seven others who have completed the challenge to date.
The Triple Crown is made up of three of NZ’s most iconic and historically important Ultra Marathon swims - being Lake Taupo (40km), Cook Strait (26km) and Foveaux Strait (28km) – all swum under global marathon swimming rules of no wetsuit, no assistance and completed as a continuous swim. To be counted as an Ultra Marathon distance (by the governing body FINA rules) these swims must be over 20km and in open water conditions – to put it in perspective to running, a 10km swim is the basic marathon swim distance and the equivalent of a 42km running marathon.
While simply completing this feat is an accomplishment, Liana also decided to use these swims as a means to support ‘I AM HOPE’ to help raise crucial funds for youth mental health support here in NZ. With her own experience with depression and mental health following a spinal fusion and subsequent recovery amidst the peak of her competitive swimming career at 17, she knows full well how necessary the support is for young Kiwis to help get them back out there following their passions. By traditional means, many young Kiwi’s wait up to six-months on counsellor waiting lists whereas I AM HOPE work tirelessly to provide free services with registered mental health professionals around the country to help these kids through their journey, provide crucial education surrounding mental health and help break the stigmas often associated with asking for help.
Liana is well under way with her endeavour - successfully swimming the 40.2km distance across Taupo from Little Waihi to Taupo township on the 23rd of April 2021 in a whopping time of 12.5hrs. With the information above in mind for comparative sake – swimming Lake Taupo is the equivalent of four marathons or a ‘100 miler’ and given it is the only fresh water swim in the Triple and much longer in distance, it is often considered the hardest of the three (as twice as much energy is exerted at all times to keep yourself afloat as well as moving forward due to lack of buoyancy). To date, only 67 people have completed the swim with the record standing at 10hrs 14min held by Phil Rush from 1985 and Anna Marshall holding the women’s record of 11hrs 26min from 2008.
Just three weeks later, on 20th May Liana attempted Cook Strait. Her training in glacial fed 13deg Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown saw her withstand the Autumnal tides and she successfully completed the crossing, swimming North Island to South Island in an incredible 6hrs 59. She is, to date, the second fastest women to swim this direction in history with the female record only being 6:49.00 set by Tammy Van Wisse in 2008. There are around still under 150 people who have swum the Cook Strait in either direction, with it typically being swum between Cape Terawhiti and Arapawa Island but is severely dictated by the strong tides and changeable weather fronts – which give it its notorious reputation and addition to being one of the ‘Oceans Seven’ – the hardest ocean swims around the world.
Liana next will attempt the final leg of the Triple Crown, the notorious Foveaux Strait between the South Island and Stewart Island. With this being a stretch of water with Antarctic currents, brutal tides and well known for its Great White populations it’s no wonder it sits on a list of the Marathon Swimming Federations ‘Toughest Thirteen’ – which comprises of extremely challenging and less known swim routes around the world. So far, no one has completed more than three within the list.
The Strait swims 28.6km wide at its narrowest point but tides obviously dictate how long the overall swim is for each swimmer respectively. It was first swum by John van Leeuwen in 1963 with Meda McKenzie in 1979 being the first female. It has currently only completed by 8 under marathon swimming rules and 11 swimmers in total.
Thanks to the incredibly generous donations of Kiwi’s following her story via social media Facebook and Instagram at ‘Swim for something’ – Liana has so far raised over $7,000 for I AM HOPE, all of which goes as direct donations through the fundraising site ‘Give A Little’ to help the incredible work they do for youth mental health within our communities. If you’d like to show your support please reach out via the ‘Swim for something’ pages or donate via her page at ‘marathon swimming for I AM HOPE’ on Give A Little. She is also planning to host several fundraisers over the coming months to help raise the $9000 for the Foveaux Strait swim in summer – so if you are, work for, or know of a local business who loves getting behind the community with sponsorship of any degree please find her contact details on the social media channels ‘Swim For Something’.