Helen Smart, a former member of Britain’s Olympic swim team who went on to become a successful school headteacher, has died at the age of 42.
Smart was married to Craig Don-Duncan and spent the last years of her life as a headteacher at Worsley Mesnes Community Primary School in Wigan, England. The cause of death is not yet known.
Alison Halliwell, chair of governors at the school, said: “It is with great sadness and regret that I have to announce the sudden death of our beloved headteacher, Mrs. Helen Smart. Our heartfelt 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.”
Helen’s husband, Craig, spoke fondly of her love for the school and children, saying: “She loved the school, staff, children and parents so much. She was so proud to reach her goal of being a 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!”
Having grown up as an athlete and swimmer, Smart enjoyed swimming success. She won silver medals at the 1998 European Championships in Sheffield and the 1999 World Championships in Hong Kong, as well as a bronze medal in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. In 2000, she represented Britain in the Olympics in Sydney, finishing 15th in the backstroke.
Smart received widespread tributes from friends and colleagues in the sport, including former Olympic swimmers Katy Sexton and Sarah Ruckwood. Sexton 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.”
Ruckwood added: “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.”
The world of swimming and education has lost an inspiring figure and the whole British Swimming community is mourning the death of Helen Smart.