Olympic swimmer Helen Smart, 43, was paddleboarding at her brother's birthday weekend away hours before her sudden death | The Sun

OLYMPIC swimmer Helen Smart was paddleboarding at her brother's birthday just hours before her sudden death, her heartbroken family have revealed.

The decorated athlete, a backstroke specialist, swam for Team GB at the 2000 Sydney Olympics under maiden name Helen Don-Duncan.

She also won a bronze medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and silver at both the World and European Championships.

But the talented swimmer tragically passed away after going to bed on August 15, while on a family trip to the Lake District.

She stayed at a large cottage on the banks of Lake Coniston with her husband Craig, daughter and young son along with her brother's family, mother Linda and father John.

And they revealed that Helen, 43, had been paddleboarding at dusk on Friday night just hours before she died.

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The Olympic swimmer was also excited about going ghyll scrambling with her loved ones the next day before the tragedy.

Nicola Hill, whose sister is married to Helen's brother Rob, said that the tragedy was a "massive shock".

She told the MEN: "It was Rob's 40th birthday celebrations we had gone as a family.

"We were all together and then she went to bed and that was it.

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"It was just a massive shock. She wasn't unwell so we can't believe it. We are describing it as a nightmare that we are waiting to wake up from. It's just being replayed in your head and not wanting to believe it."

Nicola added. "On the Friday night when we got there she wanted to go straight to the lake and go paddleboarding.

"She was always the motivator in every situation and she was the first one to get up and do anything."

Her family have spoken about how trips to the Lake District were something Helen cherished.

Nicola said these excursions "always made her happy" and "felt like home" to Helen.

Nicola continued: "She got married in the Lakes at Low Wood Bay, we went there for her 40th and then her hen party too.

"She just loved being there and it always made her happy. It was somewhere she always said she felt at home."

After retiring from swimming following the Sydney Olympics, Helen went on to become head of Worsley Mesnes Community Primary School in Wigan.

The family now are trying to raise funds online to create a memorial in memory of Helen in her beloved Lake District.

Nicola said: "We want there to be a memorial in the Lake District, which is where she loved to be. We always called Helen the selfie queen because she loved selfies and was taking them on the Friday night when we were away.

"A selfie spot and somewhere that someone can go to remember their loved ones that have been lost and to keep her memory alive.

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"The response from people so far has been overwhelming. It just makes you realise how small the world is and how many people think of her.

"It shows how much she was loved. Regardless of how long people knew her, she had such an impression on people."

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