Helen grew up in a sporting family in Penzance. Her father captained the Cornwall rugby team and played for the Barbarians rugby side. Helen’s great-grandfather began the ice cream company Jelbert’s Ices in Newlyn. At school, Helen swam and played tennis for Cornwall. She also played hockey and athletics for England.
Helen studied sport science in Wales and is a qualified secondary school PE teacher. In 2008, she joined a training programme with the Great Britain Rowing Team. She won her first rowing trophy in 2009. In 2010, Helen joined the Great Britain Rowing Team. With her rowing partner Heather Stanning, Helen competed in the World Rowing Cup in the coxless pairs (a rowing boat for two people which has nobody steering).
Together with Heather Stanning or Polly Swann, Helen went on to win all the major rowing competitions in the coxless pairs, including:
2011 – First place in Munich and Lucerne in the World Rowing Cup, beating the World Champions at the time.
2012 – First place in the World Rowing Cup, also winning Great Britain’s first gold medal in the London Olympics, setting a new Olympic record time.
2013 – First place in the World Rowing Cup, later winning the World Rowing Championship.
2014 – Won the European Rowing Championship, the World Rowing Cup, the World Rowing Championship and the British Rowing Championship.
2015 – Won the European Championship, World Rowing Cup and the World Rowing Championship.
To celebrate their 2012 Olympic success, the Royal Mail issued a special stamp featuring Helen and Heather. In Helen’s hometown of Penzance, a post box on Quay Street was painted gold. The following year, the Queen awarded both Helen and Heather an MBE. Helen was the first British rower to hold the Olympic, World and European Championship titles at the same time.
2016 – Helen and Heather won the Gold Medal in the Olympic Games in Rio in Brazil. This was the pair’s 39th competitive win in a row.