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Reading's Helene Raynsford won gold at Beijing
by Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire reporter

Helene Raynsford.
Helen was the first British woman rower to win an Olympic-level gold

A former ballet dancer who now lives in Reading has overcome a traumatic brain injury to win gold in Beijing.

Helene is now studying for a masters in neuro-science at Royal Holloway College.

Helene Raynsford told BBC Radio Berkshire's Susanne Courtney about what it was like to compete and win gold at the Paralympics in 2008.

She said, despite falling ill following her gold-winning race in Beijing, she had found it an exciting experience.

She said: "To be honest when you've finished a race and pushed yourself absolutely to the max, it does't feel that great to be honest, I was absolutely exhausted and felt really rubbish, but to look back now, it was a really good day.

Helene said she had found Beijing 'exciting'.

"It is quite an exciting feeling," she said. "We were there for two weeks before race day. We would be hearing the music they played every time they went to give the medals out, we would hear the national anthem played and we would think, we want that to be played on our day."

Helene studied dance at the Royal Ballet School until she was 17. At 21, she was involved in a car accident that changed everything.

Helene Raynsford.
Helene trained as a ballet dancer before taking up rowing.

"It was a difficult time for my family and really close friends," she said. "At first I struggled to do really basic tasks, had little muscle coordination, my short term memory was pretty non-existent, I had the same conversation with people many times."

However, Helene's dance training proved an important factor in her journey to become a Paralympic athlete.

"So many things are transferable skills from my days at the Royal Ballet School, such as having the dedication the way you have to apply yourself to your training." she said.

"Although I'm not exactly elegant now in the way that I used to be a dancer, I feel like when I'm in the boat I that I carry some of that precision and elegance through in terms of my stroke and technique."

After her accident, Helene took up basketball. She only started rowing in 2005, at Dorney Lake, by chance.

"I was there for work and had made every excuse under the sun not to go on that day because I had too much to do in the office," she said. "I turned up and saw rowing for the first time, live, because there was the world cup taking place, and I thought it was exciting."

After entering her first regatta, Helene said she was 'totally gripped', and decided to row more often.

She made it onto the World Championship podium in 2006 winning Gold at her first international, after relentless training and sleeping, training is two or three times a day, six days a week.

In 2008 Helene made history in Beijing by becoming the first ever women to win an Olympic level gold medal in rowing for Great Britain.

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