Tributes Paid To 1998 Commonwealth Bronze Medallist Helen Smart (née Don-Duncan) After Death At 42

Helen Smart
Helen Smart: Photo Courtesy: Swim England

Tributes Paid  To 1998 Commonwealth Bronze Medallist Helen Smart (née Don-Duncan) After Death At 42

Tributes have been paid to 1998 Commonwealth 200m backstroke bronze medallist Helen Smart (née Don-Duncan) who has died aged 42.

Smart won gold in the 200 back at the 1996 European Junior Championships in Copenhagen before going on to win four straight British senior titles from 1997.

As well as claiming bronze for Team England in 1998 at the Commonwealths in Kuala Lumpur, Smart was 11th in the 200 back at the World Championships and won silver at the European Short-Course Championships, a finish she replicated at the short-course worlds a year later.

She competed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney where she qualified from the heats in 12th before going on to finish 15th in the semis.

After retiring from swimming, Smart went on to work as a teacher before becoming head teacher at Worsley Mesnes Community Primary School in Wigan, north-west England.

Many former teammates paid tribute to the mother of two, among them Rachael Ashcroft, Katy Sexton, Karen Pickering and Sarah Price.

Ashcroft, who swam alongside Smart in Lancashire, English and British teams, said she was lucky enough to have called her her friend for 32 years.

Helen Smart

Helen Smart: Photo Courtesy: Swim England

She said through Swim England:

“Helen was special – the type of person you want your children to grow up to be like.

“From the moment I met her, aged 11 at Everton Park Sports Centre, I immediately liked her. I think we bonded over our slightly unusual and unique surnames and, of course, our love of swimming. I just found her easy to be around, especially when I was so nervous before I competed.

“Helen’s steely determination and natural competitive spirit always inspired me. We competed against each other many times but somehow it always felt like we were competing with each other, helping each other along the way.

“Her achievements of numerous British records, British titles, European, Commonwealth, World medals and achieving her Olympic dream came as a result of her discipline, commitment, dedication and belief in herself.

“Despite her success, she was always humble and down to earth and she always helped others who’d had a bad race or didn’t achieve what they wanted to rather than focus on herself. I know she picked me up a few times from bitter disappointment and made me smile.

“I never heard a bad word uttered by anyone about Helen and how could they. She was always kind, thoughtful and looked after everyone, especially me.

“The end of Helen’s swimming career did not see the end of her focus and drive.

“Helen always threw herself into everything that she believed in – swimming teaching and coaching, her outstanding commitment to Pemberton Band, her career as a brilliant teacher and head teacher, maintaining her friendships and her many other interests.

“Her main focus, though, was her beautiful family who she adored more than anything. They are so very close and all did so much together. Her two little children, Heidi and Stanley, and her husband, Craig, were her pride and joy and she was the best mummy and wife.

“I will do all I can to make sure that they know exactly why their mummy was so special to everyone.

“Thank you, Helen, for always being there – I love you.”

Sexton won gold ahead of Smart in the 200 back at the 1998 Commonwealths with the pair making their Olympic debuts at Sydney 2000.

She said:

“I’ve been trying to find the words to say about this but am so shocked by the news, I don’t know what to say.

“Helen was such a vibrant character, always happy and a great friend and roommate.

“She was such a dedicated athlete and had an amazing work ethic which she carried into her life outside of sport.

“She will be greatly missed and my biggest sympathies go to her family.”

Pickering and Price Pay Tribute

Pickering, who won 34 international medals during her career, including eight golds at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games, said:

Helen Smart

Helen Smart: Photo Courtesy: Swim England

“I was lucky to be on teams with Helen or DD as she was known.

“Helen was a fierce competitor, gritty in training but humble in her victories and medal successes.

“I will remember her most for her sense of humour, laughter and the smile that rarely left her face.

“Any lane or room was happier when she was in it.”

Price – who led an England clean sweep of the 200 back podium at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester – said:

“Myself and Helen shared a very special chapter of our lives – our passion for swimming.

“Swimming brought us together, a northern lass and a southern girl that shared the same love for swimming backstroke.

“I am so grateful for all the memories we had together travelling the world, where we spent so much time training and racing.

“I had the utmost respect and admiration for DD as a swimmer and friend. Whether we were racing, training or just hanging out, she was so gracious in all she did and was extremely funny and kind. 

“She was a tough competitor in the pool as well as the most caring friend out of it.

“I remember Helen most though as someone who would always brighten a room when she walked in it and her infectious laugh would bring a smile to everyone.

“It is no surprise that she went on from swimming to become a primary school headteacher working with and inspiring all around her.

“DD did always and will always have a very special place in my heart, as the most amazing person.”



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