During last year’s long course season, Cleveland’s very own swimming phenom Grayson Payne set a goal for herself: to make the 11-12 Girls Zone team and compete in the Southern Zone Age Group Championships in San Antonio, Texas.
“The zone championship is just about the highest level for my age group,” Payne explained. “Then there are junior nationals, senior nationals and actual nationals.”
A little over a week ago, Payne was able to check that goal off of her list following a dominating performance at the 2014 Long Course Southeastern Championships in Knoxville.
Payne, who has been apart of McCallie/GPS Aquatics for two years, set five new records for her swim club. Those records are 1:03.31 in the 100-yard and 4:53.42 in the 400 Freestyle, 31.76 in the 50-yard and 1:10.33 in the 100 Backstroke, plus 2:35.46 in the 200 Individual Medley.
“Out of all the swimmers for the team that have ever swam those events in my age group, I swam them the fastest,” Payne proudly stated.
Along with setting new team records, Payne was also one of eight selected to be on the 11-12 Girls Southeastern Zone team.
“Each age group gets eight girls and eight boys to represent Southeastern swimming. She was one of the eight girls chosen. There were four swimmers chosen from McCallie/GPS to go to the zone championship in San Antonio,” Grayson’s mom Sandy explained. “I was very proud of her. She set this goal to make the Zone team after the long course season ended last year. She’s worked hard towards it all year, so making the Zone team was a big deal.”
The young swimmer soon had another thing to celebrate, after finding out that her time in the 50 Back ranked her first in the event out of all the other 12-year-old girls in the nation.
“I was really excited and was jumping up and down. It was awesome,” Grayson commented.
Payne’s mother was already proud of her oldest child just for accomplishing her goal, but was floored when the realization came of just how good she had done in the 50 Back.
“Her being the top in the nation was kind of surreal. When I saw the USA rankings I was just like ‘wow,’” Sandy commented.
Leading into the week of the Southern Zone Championships, Payne is now currently ranked third in the nation.
Kentuckian Gabi Albiero sits in first after posting a time of 31.21, with Kate Saczawa of Ohio holding second with a time of 31.45. Both of these times were set after Payne’s time was posted.
“She’ll get the chance to reclaim first again at the Zone,” Sandy said.
For Grayson, making the Southeastern Zone team gives her the opportunity to go after even more records.
“Making the zone team means to me that I have a second chance to break the national record and the southeastern record,” Grayson proclaimed. “I dropped a second off of my seed time at the Southeastern and I’ve dropped more in a 50 before, so I think I can do it again.”
Payne attributes much of her success in the water to the amount of practice she puts in, which is twice a day for a total of four and a half hours a day, six days a week.
“I’ve practiced everyday, twice a day except on Sundays this year because I wanted to make Zones. I don’t like missing practice at all and I don’t think I have missed one in a very long time,” Grayson explained. “We have different workouts every day, including dry land ones.”
According to her mom, the coaches with McCallie/GPS Aquatics do a great job with keeping the kids excited to practice.
“I think her coaches do a fabulous job of varying the practices where the kids don’t get burned out. She looks forward to the practices everyday,” Sandy stated. “She puts a lot of work into it for sure. I think natural ability has to account for some of it as well. It’s been impressive to see how she set a goal and worked to make it happen.”
Besides coaches Roger Dahlke and Stan Corcoran, Grayson also feels that others have made an impact on her.
“One of the girls who made the Zone team with me, Susanna LaRochelle, and her dad (Pete), who is one of the coaches, have both really influenced me. She practices really hard everyday and she is who I would hope to be like. She has a lot of good sportsmanship and is just a great teammate,” Payne detailed.
While Grayson has been homeschooled her whole life, she will make the transition to GPS for seventh grade this fall.
Payne’s foray into competitive swimming started five years ago, when the then eight-year-old began swimming with the Cleveland Aqua Tigers.
Since then, Payne has become a force to be reckoned with in the pool, which was further witnessed at this year’s Chattanooga Area Swim League’s City Meet.
Payne won the high point award for her age group, taking first place in every event she entered, even breaking the CASL backstroke record.
For now, taking the first plane ride of her life and posting another standout performance at the Southern Zone Championships occupy the young swimmer’s mind, but future goals are always being added to the list.
“I’ve been thinking about junior nationals, but that’s still two years away. I guess I will keep on practicing really hard and trying to get better so that I can make those. I would like to go to the Zones next year, which would be harder because you’re swimming against 13 and 14-year-olds,” Payne said. “My hope is to go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.”
Based on her current track record, one thing is for certain - if anyone has the drive, determination and pure skill needed to reach the Olympic Games it’s Grayson Payne.