Helen Smart has died suddenly at the age of 43 (Image: Facebook)
Olympic swimmer Helen Smart, who swam backstroke at the Games in Sydney in 2000, has died “suddenly” at the age of 43.
During an impressive career, competing under her maiden name of Helen Don-Duncan, Ms Smart won a bronze medal at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commenwealth Games, and also won multiple national titles.
In a statement, 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!”
Alison Halliwell, chairman of governors at The Worsley Mesnes Community Primary 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 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.
Helen Smart pictured during her competition days (Image: Swimming.org)
“Further information/updates will be issued as and when they are available.”
Rachael Ashcroft, who competed alongside Ms Smart in Lancashire, English and British teams, also paid tribute to her friend.
She said: “Helen was special – the type of person you want your children to grow up to be like.
“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.
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“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.
She continued: “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.”
Katy Sexton, a former World and Commonwealth champion, made her Olympic debut alongside Ms Smart in Australia 23 years ago.
She said: “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.”