Helen Smart, a former member of Britain’s Olympic swim team who also won silver medals at the World Championships and European Championships, has died. She was 42.
Smart was known as Helen Don-Duncan before she married. Smart’s family and British Swimming both announced the swimmer’s death Monday. After her swim career was over, she became a teacher at Worsley Mesnes Community Primary School in Wigan, England.
The cause was not immediately known.
“She loved the school, staff, children and parents so much,” Smart’s husband, Craig, said, via the Evening Standard. “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.”
Alison Halliwell, the chair of governors at the school, described Smart’s death as “sudden.”
“It is with great sadness and regret that I have to announce the sudden death of our beloved headteacher, Mrs. Helen Smart,” she said. “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.
“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.”
Fellow former Olympic swimmers Katy Sexton and Sarah Ruckwood were among those who paid tribute to Smart.
“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,” Sexton said through British Swimming. “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.”
Ruckwood added that she was “grateful” for the memories she had of Smart.
“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,” Ruckwood added. “It is no surprise that she went on from swimming to become a primary school headteacher working with and inspiring all around her. I am so sorry that life after swimming meant we did not manage to see each other over the years due to distance and other life pressures. DD did always and will always have a very special place in my heart, as the most amazing person.”
Smart competed in the backstroke for Britain. She won a silver in the 1998 European Championships in the 200-meter backstroke in Sheffield and in the 1999 World Championships in Hong Kong in the same event. She also had a bronze in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Smart participated in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and finished 15th in the backstroke.