Former Olympic swimmer and Commonwealth Games medallist Helen Smart has suddenly died.
Tributes have flowed for the 43-year-old who represented Team Britain in the Sydney Olympics and won a bronze medal two years earlier at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.
Smart, a backstroker who competed under the name Don-Duncan during her swimming days, also won silver medals at the World and European Championships.
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England great and Olympic medallist Sharron Davies has led the tributes, saying Smart’s death was “very sad news”.
Davies was one of many to take to social media after the shock news broke that the highly respected teacher – and mother of two – had suddenly passed away.
“This is very sad news. Always a pleasure to interview & always a huge smile on her face. A fierce competitor,” Davies tweeted.
Helen Smart will be sorely missed by friends, family and her school community. Credit: Facebook
Smart went into teaching after swimming was a much-loved figure at her primary school, Worsley Mesnes Community.
Her husband, Craig Smart, said: “She loved the school, staff, children and parents so much.
“She was so proud to reach her goal of being headteacher. She used to say to me all the time she could never see herself at another school. She was Worsley Mesnes through and through!
“I remember only last week she said her goal was to get the school to outstanding and that she had the right staff to achieve this.
“I hope you all keep learning like champions. Please learn from this and live your best life, no regrets.
“Take lots of photos, make memories and keep smiling just like Helen always did! Love to you all!”
Smart’s school was also devastated.
“It is with great sadness and regret that I have to announce the sudden death of our beloved headteacher, Mrs Helen Smart,” the school’s chair of governors, Alison Halliwell, said in a statement.
Smart was a fierce competitor in the pool, but always humble and ‘kind’. Credit: British Swimming
“Our heart-felt condolences are sent to Helen’s family at this very difficult time.
“I know this news will be a shock and cause great sadness to our community.
“I want to reassure you that the governors of Worsley Mesnes School are working with the local authority and school to ensure that our children, staff and parents will receive the necessary support in the coming weeks.
“Further information/updates will be issued as and when they are available.”
Long-time friend and former teammate, Rachael Ashcroft, said Smart was “kind”, disciplined, and “humble”.
“Helen was special – the type of person you want your children to grow up to be like,” Ashcroft said.
“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.
Smart was also a loving mother and a devoted friend. Credit: EMPICSSport
“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 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 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 you know exactly why your mummy was so special to everyone. Thank you, Helen, for always being there – I love you.”
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