My return to the 2.4mR

I was really pleased to win a silver medal at Hyeres – the fourth event in the ISAF World Cup Series and my first 2.4mR event since the Paralympics.

I hadn’t stepped into a 2.4mR at all since the Games so I went to Hyeres with no expectations as to how it was going to go – my goal was just to enjoy it, get racing again, see where I was at and what I need to work on.

Everything actually came back quite quickly, which was reassuring. I did three days of training with my coach, Ian Barker, before the event started and on the last day we chatted through a few things about the racing, which just meant everything was fresh in my mind.

Being out of the boat for a while actually makes it easier to step back, look at the big picture and really think about what your priorities are in each race. I knew I had to keep it simple, and I set myself three priorities in each race to focus on and do well.

Team Volvo’s Helena Lucas on her silver medal win in Hyeres, France at the fourth event in the ISAF World Cup Series.

I knew my starting was going to be a bit rusty, but I was never worried about that as I know how to work on that. But even from the practice race on Sunday I felt I was actually racing really well and I was making sensible decisions. I was also really relaxed while I was racing, which I think helped me recognise and seize opportunities as they arose in a race.

Although I went into the event relaxed and looking to enjoy it I pretty quickly learned my competitors were taking it very seriously! This wasn’t just my first event since the Paralympics but also Heiko Kroger (GER) and Damien Seguin’s (FRA) too. I think being Paralympic champion did make me more of a target and there was certainly some pretty intense racing out there. I even ended up in the protest room one night, which was definitely not on the agenda beforehand! But all good experience for the future.

It was also really nice to see so many people I hadn’t seen since the Games, and to be part of the whole British Sailing Team again, which I haven’t been since Sail for Gold Regatta last June. The Games seem such an unbelievably long time ago now that to still have people congratulating me was really lovely, but sometimes I’d forget and be thinking ‘For what??’

The British team were scattered around staying in different accommodation in Hyeres. However the team chef was out there, so every evening the team would eat together, catch up and chat about everyone’s days.

I was back in Hyeres this weekend for an SB20 Grand Prix event I did with Team Volvo’s Lucy Macgregor and Ali Young and Richard Mason. The first race we did was the first time we had ever sailed together and the first time I’d helmed an SB20. I needed some advice on rigging the boat!

But it was great, we finished fifth overall and first female helm. There are some fantastic sailors in the class, and for most this is their hobby not their job, so there’s a slightly different attitude and approach to it. It’s less intense and really sociable. The four of us in our boat all have different experiences so it was interesting to get other people’s take on things and learn from each other. I love Hyeres too, so it was good.

There was a nice surprise when I got back from Hyeres last weekend. Just when you think all the post Games furore is starting to quieten down, tickets for the Royal Box at Wimbledon arrived! I’ve never been to Wimbledon before but always wanted to go. It was my birthday on Monday and this was such an awesome birthday present! I’m due to go on the middle Saturday so who knows who will be the same day as me? I’m really excited about it!

But before that I have my next 2.4mR event at the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland later this month, so another couple of weeks and I’ll be off again. But, it is great to be back!


Turning my attention to Rio 2016

Things are slightly starting to quieten down now – well a bit anyway – as my attention turns to Rio 2016.

The events of December ended my dream year on a perfect high – I was awarded an MBE, was on stage at the most amazing BBC Sports Personality of the Year and finally got to enjoy an incredible holiday with my husband Steve in the British Virgin Islands.

Finding out I was getting an MBE was a real surprise. After the Games the vibe was that a special sports award would be awarded as there were so many Gold medalists.

So it was a real shock when the letter came through the door! The hardest part was I was sworn to secrecy.  I did casually leave the letterlying around so that Steve saw it, but we decided not to tell parents and let it be a wonderful suprise in the New Year. However my mum had kind of guessed due to something in the papers, so I told her, but she did keep it a secret from the rest of the family.

Already I have been recieving post addressed to Helena Lucas MBE, which  feels quite bizarre, but is rather cool!

There have been so many congratulations letters and two that really stand out were from Prince Andrew, The Duke of York and HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne. Both those came through with official Royal stamps on the envelope and I’m waiting for the next one from the Palace, which will hopefully tell me the date of my investiture. The initial letter said it would be within six months so I can’t wait to know. Knowing my luck I’ll probably be at some regatta abroad, hoping Sparky  (British sailing team manager) understands when I disappear to the Palace for a flying visit!

The BBC Sports Personality at Excel was an amazing evening! I’ve never been in a room with so many famous people, I must admit I was rather starstruck! To be asked to be one of the 10 athletes to go onto the stage to collect the TeamGB/ParalympicsGB’s team of the year award was a massive honour.

I’d been asked a couple of weeks earlier that if we did win the team award would I do it and that I’d find the details out on the night. I didn’t realise ‘on the night’ would literally mean minutes before though! About quarter of the way through the show, when Andy Murray was on the screen, someone came over and asked if I’d been briefed and when I said no, simply told me I’d either enter the stage from the front or from round the back. No clearer!

Later someone else said when I saw the Brownlee brothers go past me to get up and just follow them, which is exactly what I did! It was very last minute but very quickly organised.

To see all those people at ground level was one thing but to see the whole audience from on the stage stood next to Gary Lineker was unbelievable. It was quite spine tingling, and nerve racking.

The after-party was equally challenging on the composure front. It was just a wall of famous faces, a sporting who’s who, in this enormous room. It took the sailors an hour to find each other! But again betraying my natural instinct and playing it a little bit cool was required. There weren’t too many people walking around having pictures with everyone they met so playing it cool was the best option even though the whole thing was quite overwhelming.

Steve and I had always said we would go away after the Games, but with all my commitments it looked like Christmas was going to be our first opportunity. With Decemer looming we had nothing organised so we were really grateful to Sunsail and Simon Conder for sorting out a trip for us at such short notice.

Getting away was just what we needed and what a place to get away. The problem is we’ve completely fallen in love with the British Virgin Islands and been completely spoiled by the beautiful scenery and fantastic sailing that anywhere else will struggle to live up to it! The beaches were like something from the Pirates of the Caribbean! Because we had left it so late we only had a week away but it felt like longer it was so stunning.

Now it’s all about focussing on Rio and getting my schedule together for this year. I haven’t been back in the 2.4mR yet – that’s planned for the middle of March – but that’s not to say we’ve been sitting around not doing anything.

There have already been lots of discussions about how we can move the campaign forward from where we were at the end of the Games. It was a gold medal-winning campaign but nothing is ever perfect and we know the rest of the World will be looking to up their Game, so we need to stay a step ahead! I think Rio will be more competitive than ever, and It would be fantastic to defend my title and be the first double Gold medallist in Paralympic Sailing!

However, I need to be careful not to get completely consumed by Rio yet though. I know these next three-and-a-half years will go so quickly but I can’t get on to the treadmill of doing all the events, and let myself get distracted what my rivals may or may not be doing.

The tentative plan for this year is to do three of the ISAF World Cup events –  Hyeres, the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland and Sail for Gold and probably the IFDS Worlds and possibly the 2.4mR Open Worlds in Poole.

But I want to do lots of other types of sailing to get experience in other boats I can take into my 2.4mR sailing. So far SB20, Etchells and Dragon sailing have been talked about so who knows what il end up competing in.

It’s just great to be heading into this campaign refreshed and excited about sailing!


My 2012 ISAF Sailor of the Year nominee

It is such an honour to have been nominated for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards for a second time and with it being an Olympic year it’s even more special.

It’s also pretty unique that my first nomination in 2006 was for sailing the Yngling Olympic class and now this one is for my Paralympic achievement. I’m really very proud and while it would obviously be lovely to win the female award, just being nominated and part of the awards evening in Dublin is something I’m really looking forward to.

Me and my husband Steve came over to Ireland on Friday and took advantage of the opportunity to get a few days away together. After spending a couple of brilliant days in Cork we headed back to Dublin ahead of the awards. I’ve competed in Ireland before but never really explored anywhere but the people are so friendly. We’re absolutely loving it!

I’ve had a couple of interviews to do, including one with fellow Team Volvo member, Shirley Robertson for CNN, which is always fun because I know her so well interviews with her are just like having a chat.

My parents have come out for the awards dinner too and I’m really lucky to have had some amazing opportunities and invitations since the Games. I had three outfits I’ve been rotating but it got to the stage where the same people have seen them too many times now! I’ve got to say a big thank you to Laura Kitching at the Dorset Echo who not only managed to get me sorted with some Debenhams vouchers but also came shopping with me last week and got a personal shopper involved to help me too!

I’m rubbish at shopping for myself but they were picking stuff for me to try on I wouldn’t normally even have taken off the hanger. I think I must have tried on every dress in the shop in my size. The idea was to get one dress for the awards but I ended up with two, a red cocktail dress I’d never have chosen for myself for the ceremony and another dress more suitable for black tie events that will get its first outing at Hayling Island SC on Saturday.

Before the Games you never allow yourself to imagine for a second what might happen if you won a gold medal, you can’t afford to think about anything but that one regatta, but I’ve been overwhelmed with what’s come off the back of it.

Probably the most incredible thing I’ve had the chance to do so far was the reception at Buckingham Palace a couple of weeks ago, which unfortunately ended up getting more publicity for the fact two athletes had their medals stolen at the nightclub we all headed off to after the Palace. It was a fantastic evening and an amazing opportunity to meet so many of the senior Royals, including The Queen, Kate and Princess Anne. The Royals circulated around the various groups in the room, very relaxed and informal. It was a special occasion.

Getting to go to these sorts of things you inevitably bump into some of the same athletes at each one. I love that we go to the events as Team GB not as the Olympic team and the Paralympic team because you get to meet and socialise with a mixture of so many interesting and incredible people. One of the athletes I’ve really enjoyed meeting is Heather Stanning, the Olympic gold medallist rower. She’s in the Army and it’s been fascinating talking to her about balancing her career with her sport ambitions. It’s also really interesting learning how other sports do things compared to the way we do things in sailing.

There have also been some more offbeat things that have happened since the Paralympics too. I’ve had a dog, a Labradoodle puppy, named after me by the Dorset-based Woofability charity, which trains assistance dogs for disabled people in Dorset, Hampshire and south Wiltshire. I’ve also been made an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Winchester, but unfortunately the graduation ceremony clashes with the ISAF awards ceremony so I don’t think I’m going to get the Doctorate until next year now

Things are showing no sign of slowing down at the moment either. I’ve been invited to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 at Excel London on Sunday 16 December, which I’d really love to be able to go to. But before that I’m hoping to be able to arrange it to get out to Rio to meet the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s, Lord Nelson, Tall Ship when it completes the first leg of its round the world voyage from Southampton.

I promised myself I was going to seize every opportunity that came my way after the Paralympics and although there are days I do feel a bit tired or I think I may have taken on a bit too much I quickly remind myself this really is a once in a lifetime. I’m so blown away by everything that’s happened to me since September I can’t contemplate taking it for granted. Life will have to return to normal at some point but until then I’m having a fantastic time!

Living the golden dream

It’s been two crazy weeks since the end of the Paralympics and I have got a back bedroom full of kit bags that are still untouched and a massive stack of paper work and emails to wade through. My feet just haven’t touched the ground long enough to do anything yet!

I always knew a home Games was going to be special but I don’t think anyone had any idea just how special and overwhelming they would end up being and that is all down to the public. The way the whole country embraced the Olympics and how that passion and enthusiasm rolled onto the Paras was awe-inspiring. I’m just so proud to have been part of it all – I don’t want to take the tracksuit off!

I just know for British athletes no other Games will be quite like we had this year. Rio will undoubtedly be great but it doesn’t get any better than this. Everyone I have spoken to wants to make the absolute most of every last moment.

The moment it really hit home to me I was a gold medallist was when the sailing team went up to London a couple of days after the end of the sailing event in Weymouth and Portland.

The day I won I was like the Ice Queen! There was no breeze on the last day of the regatta so we did a lot of sitting around, trying to stay relaxed but focussed in the event that we would get to go out sailing and race the final race.

Our team psychologist Ben had done such a good job on getting me thinking ‘It’s just another regatta, it’s just another regatta’ that when the flags went up in the middle of the afternoon to say that racing had been abandoned for the day, and the event was over, it was a bit like ‘Oh so that’s it?’ Everyone else around me, and all my friends and family, were so emotional but although I was ecstatic I initially felt a bit disappointed I hadn’t been able to get out racing on the last day and enjoy the moment of winning gold on the water.

The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of interviews and photoshoots in Weymouth plus we had to pack up the boat and move out of the team accommodation all on the back of about two hours’ sleep and a big party on the Thursday night!

But on the Saturday me and the Team Volvo SKUD guys Niki Birrell and Alexandra Rickham (Olympic bronze medallists) and the Sonar guys Jon Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas, with our team physiologist David, caught the trainfrom Weymouth to London to join the rest of the Paralympics GB athletes. That was when the scale of what we had done hit home.

We had been chatting to the guard on the platform and he had asked who we were and what we had done so when we got on the train there was an announcement came over the tannoy that there were some Paralympic medallists on board and perhaps we would be happy to walk through the carriages and give people the chance to see our medals if they would like. Me and Niki Birrell, who won SKUD class bronze, thought ‘Yep not a problem it will be 15 minutes just having a couple of photos and chatting to a few people.’

Two hours later and we were done!

It was incredible the reaction we got, absolutely overwhelming. Each carriage we walked into we were greeted with people clapping and everyone wanted to have their picture with us and touch the medals. To them it didn’t matter what sport we were from, we were just British Paralympic athletes, we were wearing the tracksuit and everyone just wanted to tell us how proud they were of the team and how inspired they had been. It was so emotional.

The gold medallist photo at Team GB House was just surreal moment. I’m stood there amongst the superstars of the Paralympics, people like David Weir, Ellie Simmonds, Johnnie Peacock, and I’m thinking ‘What am I doing here??’ But then it was like ‘Oh yeah it’s because I’ve got a gold medal. I’ve got a gold medal!’ It was just another moment to savour. Everything happens so fast that you just want to bottle it all up so that you can open it up every now and then and re-live it all because you just get swept along at the time.

For the first four or five days after the Games I probably averaged three hours’ sleep a night and I was thinking ‘I’m not sure how long I can keep this up!’ By the time of the closing ceremony I was absolutely knackered and as we waited to walk into the stadium I thought I’m going to fall asleep in there. But then we walked in and oh my God! The adrenaline took over again and I was dancing around in the stadium like I’d slept for 12 hours! Adrenaline is an amazing thing – I just didn’t want to miss a thing, it was all too special. Even things like being able to get into London’s top nightclubs in tracksuit and flip-flops blew my mind!

I opted to have my gold post box in Portland. I was raised in Redhill, Surrey and have ties to Southampton. But me and my husband Steve have made Portland our home and I thought it would be really nice to say thank you to the people of Portland for their incredible patience and support for the British Sailing Team both in the build-up to and during the Olympics and Paralympics and to give them a reminder of what an incredible summer it was for the area.

I’ve bought a load of my gold medallist stamps and all my Christmas cards this year are going to have one of my stamps and be posted in my gold post box!

Life will start returning to some semblance of normality soon, as Steve keeps jokingly reminding me I may be a gold medallist but real life goes on. But there are still plenty of nice things still to come; awards dinners, going Extreme 40 racing in Nice, that sort of thing. I’m exhausted but a holiday can wait for now. I just want to keep enjoying the moment and the opportunities that this amazing summer has brought to British sport.