'Mental health in sport is huge,' says Olympic medallist Payne

Beijing 2008 silver medallist Keri-anne Payne was speaking at a SportsAid event dedicated to championing the parents and guardians of talented young athletes

For the first time since 2004, Keri-anne Payne is in an Olympic year knowing she will not be spending the summer competing with the best long-distance swimmers the world has to offer.

The 32-year-old, who won a 10km open water silver medal at Beijing 2008, hung up her goggles three years ago and has since welcomed her first child with husband David Carry, himself a former Team GB Olympic swimmer.

Taking the step away from elite sport was tough for Payne, however – and the SportsAid ambassador has highlighted the importance of the charity’s work in helping those such as herself come to terms with seeing the word ‘former’ precede ‘Olympian’.

“Mental health is a huge thing and definitely something we don’t talk about enough,” Payne said.

“Now I’ve transitioned from elite sport through to running businesses, having a baby and trying to navigate relationships with my husband, my baby and my family, it’s such hard work.

“I think talking to someone and finding someone you can talk to, whether that’s a family member or someone completely outside of your support network, is a huge thing.

“Lots of people want to help and they want to talk to you and help you through it. That’s one reason I really love SportsAid and lots of things they do.

“They offer that opportunity to everyone, and if you need it the support will be there to help you.”

Payne moved to the UK from South Africa at the age of 13 and first encountered SportsAid when her senior career was up and running.

“The amazing thing about SportsAid is giving that pat on the back to the kids, saying we believe in you,” she said. “It’s just that little extra boost at an age where you need boosts.

“When you’ve been knocked down so many times, for whatever reason, to have that boost at the right time makes a huge difference. I can see it in the athletes that have been nominated or won the One-to-Watch Award and what they have gone on to do after that.

“It’s also nice for the parents to know they’ve got some support if they need it because they’re all going through what my parents did when I was that age.”

Now a parent herself, Payne is not putting any pressure on her young daughter, Josephine, to follow in her parents’ illustrious footsteps.

“She absolutely loves the water,” Payne said. “I want her to be able to swim but a bit of me doesn’t want to be a swimming mum.

“I had a great life and I wouldn’t be where I am now without my sport, so if she wants to do swimming I will support her.

“But what I have done is make swimming a daddy thing!”

SportsAid supports the most promising young British athletes by providing them with a financial award, recognition and personal development opportunities during the critical early stages of their careers. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk to find out how you can help the charity support the country’s next generation of sporting heroes!