British sailing’s golden girl, Helena Lucas made history claiming 2.4mR Paralympic gold at London 2012, becoming the first ever female winner of the male dominated Paralympic class and Britain’s first ever Paralympic sailing gold medallist.
Helena, who was born with no thumbs and limited extension in her arms, is in the unusual position of having done both Olympic and Paralympic campaigns. Having sailed 470s since 1997 she moved into the Paralympic 2.4mR in 2003 before making her Paralympic Games debut at Beijing 2008, finishing seventh.
Helena is continuing on the road to Rio 2016 on a quest for her second gold medal. Outside of her Rio campaign she is looking to experiment with new classes and will be fronting her own SB20 campaign.
“I started sailing at the age of 8 with my parents in their Enterprise, but didn’t take to it until I was 12 when I started racing Toppers. I soon moved into the 420 and was selected for the Youth Squad. I had my sights set on going to the Olympics in the 470, but decided before I embarked on an Olympic campaign I would get my degree first. So I stayed in the 420 until I graduated from Southampton Solent University with a BEng Hons in Yacht and Power Craft design.
I campaigned the 470 for the Sydney and Athens Games, but just missed out on selection for both. It was shortly after the trials for Athens that the RYA approached me to see if I would consider sailing the 2.4mR in the Paralympics.
Having always sailed in able bodied classes I had never considered the Paralympics and had no idea about 2.4mR’s. I had two concerns about doing a campaign, the first, was I going to get the same buzz at competing at Paralympics level and secondly was I going to enjoy sailing the boat. I need not have worried about the competition, the top sailors had all done Olympic campaigns themselves in the various classes and also I was competing against the men, not just the women like the 470. The 2.4mR is nothing like anything I have sailed before. She handles like a yacht even though she is the size of a dinghy. The boat is very technical and the racing close and tactical and I have loved the change and challenge of learning a new class.
I had my first sail in a 2.4mR in January 2004 and with the trials in April, I had very little time to learn the boat. I was getting good results from the start, and things were on track for April, but unfortunately I suffered gear failure and lack of knowledge of the problem cost me the trials. However I went on to finish 5th at the Open Worlds and first Paralympic sailor beating all my competitors going to the Games.
I then went on to campaign hard for Beijing 2008, finished 3rd at the Open Worlds in September 2005 and 2nd at the IFDS Worlds in January 2006. In July 2006 I was asked by double Olympic gold medallist, Shirley Robertson if I would stand in as helm for her Yngling crew for the Pre-Olympic Test event in Qingdao. Shirley was expecting twins so unable to compete herself. We went to the regatta with no expectations, I had never sailed an Yngling before and we had had no time to practice, before departing for China. We had an amazing regatta and finished with a second place podium finish. I continued to finish on the podium in the build up to Beijing and was a strong medal contendar going into the regatta. However I finished a disapointing 7th overall.
I leant many lessons from Beijing which I feel really contributed to my success in London. It was a tough 4 year campaign with many up’s and down’s, but I really turned the corner when Ian Barker started coaching me in July 2011. I found my speed again and the results started to come. Going into London I felt confident I could win a medal, but thought it would be a real fight to the last race. I was amazed I won GOLD with almost a race to spare. It was an amazing experience and the support from the British public was overwhelming. I am now campaigning hard to try and defend my title in Rio!
Sept 12- London 2012 Paralympic games, UK – Gold
June 12- Skandia Sail for gold Regatta, UK – 2nd
May 12 – French Olympic Sailing Week, FRA – 2nd
April 12- Princess Sofia Regatta, ESP – 2nd
Jan 12- IFDS Worlds, Florida, USA – 4th
Dec 11 – IFDS Pre Worlds, USA – 1st
July 11 – IFDS Worlds, UK- 3rd
Aug 08 – Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, CHN – 7th
Aug 06 – Beijing 2008 Pre Test Event – 2nd
Date of birth: 29 April 1975
Place of birth: Redhill, Surrey
Currently lives: Weymouth
Class: 2.4mR Keelboat
Currrently sails at: Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy
Greatest sporting achievement: Winning my Paralympic gold medal at London 2012
Why Sailing: Became involved through my parents, and attended my first Junior helm week at Crawley Mariners Sailing Club aged 7
Greatest strengths in sailing: My determination and commitment
Ambition: It was to win an Paralympic gold medal! So now to win my second Paralympic gold medal
Hobbies: Skiing, cycling, supporting Southampton FC and cruising on my Westerly GK29