What a sportsperson does after they retire says a lot about them. Some seek the limelight, loath to relinquish the spotlight to others. Some turn to drink. Others work quietly and tirelessly behind the scenes for the good of the sport. Helene Raynsford – now Dyson – is in the latter category. Having won the first GB women’s Paralympic gold medal in rowing, she has carried on working in sport, taking unglamorous (and I’m sure sometimes tedious) positions that make a real difference to the good of rowing and adaptive rowing. The fact you might not remember her very well speaks for itself. But today I’m asking you to remind yourself who she is and consider whether you could help her out.

Who is Helene Raynsford?

Helene is someone who has never allowed challenges and misfortunes to cow her. When she was 21 and at university, an injury left her in a wheelchair. Undaunted, she took up wheelchair basketball and ended up in the 2003-2006 GB squad, winning two Paralympic Cup silvers.

In 2005 Helene tried rowing. She was a natural and competed in the 2006 World Rowing Champs in arms only women’s single sculls. In 2008 rowing was introduced to the Paralympic Games in Beijing. Helene won GOLD in ASW1x with 12 seconds over the silver medallist.

That wasn’t the end of her problems. She suffered from cardiac problems but fought back to qualify to race at World Champs 2010 in NZ. Sadly, back injury meant she didn’t make the final. When it came to the London Olympics in 2012, Helene wasn’t able to compete but participated instead as a Games Maker.

Why does she need new wheels?

In 2013 Helene was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat the cancer but has suffered more ill health since then with surgery in 2017 on her spine. She may not regain all lost function but should stop deteriorating.

Helene is desperate to stay involved in sport. She volunteers and sits on various boards alongside IPC, IOC and other IF Presidents. But mobility is a problem. What she really needs is a decent wheelchair to help her to get out and about, to restore her independence, confidence and va va voom. Which is why Di at Rock the Boat has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise £19,000 to get Helene a Genny Segway wheelchair. This campaign wasn’t, you ought to know, prompted by Helene, who I believe is pretty overwhelmed by the whole idea.

Here’s what Di has to say about it:

“This chair will allow [Helene] to get out & about in UK supporting our sport too.

“A Genny Segway wheelchair will give Helene independence again – it folds down small enough to fit in the boot of a family car, it can be used indoors, in shops & public loos, it has off-road wheels so she can take her assistance dog, Amber, on long muddy walks.

“They’re expensive. But what price independence?

“As an elite athlete Helene deserves a chair with a profile emphasising ability not disability. It’s her dream chair.

“Please send a small (or big) donation towards getting Helene her new wheels. ALL donations make a difference & are much appreciated. Helene is happy to make motivational talks (or Skype sessions) with companies / clubs who give a significant sum (say £500+).

“I’ve promised her (rashly) we’ll get her a chair by Henley Royal Regatta (by 1 July 2017). Please help!”

Helene has never hesitated to give back to her sport, so please have a look at the JustGiving page here and see what you can give. There’ll also be a donation tin at events (look out for the Rock the Boat stand) if you prefer to drop a few pence into a tin. And if you’re not in a position to make a donation, please help spread the word far and wide, using the hashtag #wheelsforhelene. Thank you!

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