1 March 2023

'Murray Mermaid' raises $1000 for sick children after breaking 40-year record

| Oliver Jacques
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Sara Carter with medal

Sara Carter has been smashing records across the Riverina. Photo: Supplied.

A 12-year-old junior swimming champion known as the ”Murray Mermaid” has raised more than $1000 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, a charity that supports kids with serious illnesses and their families, just after she broke a 40-year-old record at a major meet in Hay.

Deniliquin’s Sara Carter set herself the challenge of swimming 16 kilometres in February, with a target of raising $750 for the foundation via its Super Swim Challenge. Much like her recent form in the pool, she smashed both goals. By the end of the month, she had covered 24.6km and raised $1028 through donations on her webpage.

“Mum mentioned the challenge to me and I thought it would be a good thing to do. I want to support sick kids,” she said.

Despite still being in primary school, Sara has now been swimming for almost a decade.

“I learned to swim when I was three years old, when we were living in Canberra. It just keeps me moving and it’s something for me to do.”

Sara has been winning events across the Riverina ever since.

On Friday, 24 February, she came first in the Deniliquin Zone Primary School Sports Association under 13s 50-metre freestyle race in Hay, with a time of 35.55 seconds, smashing the previous record set in 1983 by more than two seconds. She also excelled at recent events in Griffith and Leeton.

“I like competing, people cheering you on makes you feel like you want to win.”

girl in pool

The Murray Mermaid has been swimming since she was three. Photo: Supplied.

Sara’s strong performances across the local circuit have seen her qualify for the 2023 Speedo Sprint Series finals in April, which bring together the top swimmers aged eight to 13 from across the state to compete in 50m events. She is also on target to make the Sydney finals of the school championships, which includes longer races.

“My favourite event is the breaststroke. I compete in the 50m, 100m and 200m,” Sara said.

Her achievement is all the more remarkable given the disadvantages faced by swimmers in her town. The Deniliquin Swim Centre and Hydrotherapy Pool is only open from November to March every year, which makes maintaining match fitness in autumn and winter difficult.

“Wherever we travel, we take a swim bag so she can practise. This year we’ll be going to Echuca and Barooga, where you can swim in winter,” mum Michelle said.

“Imagine if we could swim all year here – there’d be so many more Deni kids breaking records.

“Being from a small town, swimming costs a fortune. We spend nearly every weekend away. We have to travel eight hours to Sydney just for one event.”

Sara offsets the tyranny by working extra hard during the summer months.

“I do an hour and a half training sessions five days a week.”

Her family calls her a mermaid, given she’s in the water almost as much as she’s on land.

Sara’s role model is Wollongong’s Emma McKeon, who won seven medals at the Tokyo Olympics, which saw her crowned Female Swimmer of the Year in 2021.

“Sara wanted to train at the Australian Institute of Sport – her dream is to compete at the Olympics one day too,” Michelle said.

“I really want to thank all the volunteers at the Deniliquin Swim Club and her great coach Chris Hayes. We think she’ll do well in Sydney.”

The Starlight Children’s Foundation has raised more than $4.5 million for sick children. Donations for Sara’s Super Swim Challenge can be made via her webpage.

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