PARALYMPIAN Helene Raynsford helped launch this year’s Henley Regatta for the Disabled.
The event patron, who won gold in the women’s single sculls at Beijing in 2008, gave a presentation at the invitation-only event at the town hall on Monday.
She said she was “excited” about going to this year’s regatta, now in its fourth year, because she had been unable to attend the previous ones due to clashes with rowing events.
Raynsford explained to the 85-strong audience of supporters how she overcame her disability to perform on the world stage. “I went to the Royal Ballet School when I was 11 years old,” she said. “I injured my foot so I couldn’t carry on. I turned to studying medical sciences and then had an injury.”
Raynsford studied biochemistry at university but a head injury at the age of 21 left her needing to use a wheelchair.
Before taking up rowing, she was a member of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team and won two Paralympic silver medals.
Raynsford took up rowing in 2005 following a visit to Dorney Lake. She won the inaugural rowing event at Beijing but retired in 2010 because of a back injury and now works as a public health specialist in Wokingham.
Earlier, Henley Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin spoke of her pride at being one of the 700 people who attended last year’s regatta at Phyllis Court Club.
“[My husband] Richard and I attended the event for the first time and it was wonderful,” she said. “For disabled children to experience the river is a wonderful thing.”
Regatta chairman Ian Tritton thanked all the guests for coming and revealed that the regatta’s success almost caught out the organisers.
He said: “Last year we broke our attendance record. We almost ran out of disabled parking spaces, which would have been quite embarrassing. The aim of Regatta for the Disabled is to provide river and river bank experiences for people of all abilities and all ages.”
This year’s event will take place at Phyllis Court Club on August 31.
For more information, to donate
or volunteer, visit www.regattaforthedisabled.org