|Years||1975 (8o 10th)|
|Clubs||Darwin College BC, Cambridge University Women’s BC, Vesper BC|
|Height||5’10” or 178 cm|
|Racing weight||11 stone 4 lb or 72.5 kg|
Helen is fourth from the right in the photo at the top of this page showing some of the GB women’s squad during the 1975 World Rowing Championships in Nottingham (Photo: Jackie Darling’s personal collection.)
Getting into rowing
Having grown up in Kenya but being a British national as her parents were Scottish, Helen first moved to the UK when she went to university in Nottingham. She learned to row when she then went to Darwin College, Cambridge to do a Masters degree. “I had gone to try out for the hockey team and didn’t feel comfortable with the attitude of the women there – there was definitely a feeling of people not wanting to lose their place on the team,” she explains. “Then a friend told me to try rowing. She said the group of women were really nice, and when I showed up to try out for the team I realized she was right. I had to learn from scratch and didn’t find it easy at all. In fact, during the Christmas recess had decided to quit! But one of the crew came to see me and said I was an essential member of the boat, so I decided to stick with it and very soon loved it.”
In 1971, Helen was selected to row for Cambridge in the Women’s Boat Race which was in coxed fours because Oxford didn’t have enough people for an eight. Cambridge won, as they did again in 1972 when they were back in eights and Helen was at six and was also President.
Helen moved to America in the autumn of 1974 to do a postgraduate course at the University of Pennsylvania. “That year I rowed in the first boat of women that Penn had ever had,” she says, “We called ourselves College Boat Club and we used the men’s facilities, which were very good. But nothing can beat the romance of rowing on the Cam!”
International rowing career
“As soon as I found out that the World Championships were going to be in Nottingham where I’d enjoyed living as a student, I decided I would try out for the British team, since I had a British passport and could not represent the US,” she explains. “I must have written a letter to the Amateur Rowing Association quite early in the year – it wasn’t a last minute thing.”
Helen arrived in London in early July. “I recall the monster of an ergometer which I had to row to be tested; and I remember having to row in a pair with Penny Chuter [the GB women’s coach]. She needed to get a sense of my ability and the girls in the four were sabotaging me so as not to lose the person I would replace. They resented ‘that Yank’ coming over and trying out for the team.”
In the end Helen rowed in the six seat of the eight. “But I was happy to be in the eight and rowing for Britain at the Championships,” she remembers. A full account of the GB women’s team at the 1975 World Rowing Championships can be found here.
“I spent 1975-1976 in Switzerland as an exchange student and was training in a double for the Olympics, following Penny Chuter’s training schedule,” Helen continues. “But we had a disastrous row in one of the early-season regattas and we were out of contention to represent Britain.”
After thus, Helen explains, “I rowed from 1976 to 1993 at Vesper Boat Club as a masters rower and competed in the head races in Boston and Philadelphia and went to the Nationals when they were not too far away. In 1991 I won two events at the FISA Internationals for Masters in Miami.”
After this she had carpal tunnel surgery and gave up rowing in favour of horse riding for twenty years but in 2015, after a chance meeting with an old friend, and has been rowing and racing with considerable success ever since. In 2016 she competed in the World Masters Games in New Zealand in several crews including a double with an old friend from her Cambridge college who now lives in South Africa which was, not surprisingly, “An absolutely wonderful experience!”
Read more about Helen’s return to rowing in 2015 on the CUWBC history site.