Penzance wishes Olympic hopeful Helen Glover good luck
PENZANCE'S Olympic gold medal hopeful Helen Glover has said the support she gets from the people of west Cornwall will give her an "extra edge" as she rows for gold on Saturday.
Helen, who has already racked up an impressive collection of medals for Great Britain since taking up rowing just four years ago, is counting down the minutes to her first Olympic race.
Rowing in the women's pairs with partner Heather Stanning, the born and bred Penzance girl will take on the best female rowers in the world at 9am on Saturday in search of Olympic gold.
But overwhelmed by the number of messages she was receiving from home, Helen took time out from her final preparations – rowing punishing sessions on a lake in Italy – to talk to The Cornishman.
The former Humphry Davy School pupil said the level of support she has received has been "awesome".
Helen, 26, said: "It's a huge factor. I'm getting a huge sense of this absolute support.
"It's awesome. I'm very fortunate in coming from Cornwall and especially Penzance where people have such a sense of community."
She also revealed in an exclusive interview:
How much of an influence her former Cornwall rugby captain father Jimmy Glover was in her sporting achievements
How difficult it was to be out of the country preparing for the Olympics when her uncle Ben Gilbert, the former Pirate, died recently
How special it felt to put on the Team GB Olympic kit for the first time
And how five times Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave had made her realise she could achieve gold despite taking up rowing so late.
Helen is considered one of Team GB's biggest gold medal hopes, despite only taking up rowing four years ago.
Friends and family all talk of the tenaciousness, drive and 100 per cent commitment that have helped her become an Olympian.
Helen said meeting Sir Steve Redgrave, Britain's greatest Olympian who fought diabetes and other hurdles to win five gold medals, was a key in inspiring her to achieve her goal.
She said: "He's a pretty inspiring character when you see him and speak to him. But you also realise he's down to earth and has worked really hard. It makes you realise what's possible.
"A couple of years ago people thought 'what can she really do when it's only two years to the Olympics?', then you think how he broke through those barriers and his health problems and his age, and you think 'if that's possible, then it's possible for me to break through and be part of the team'.
"I wouldn't expect to go to four Olympics. I want a life as well."
The desire for a 'life' reflects the punishing schedule and sacrifices Helen has had to make.
While training on the picturesque 5km-long Lake Varese in Italy last week, she was getting up and having "first breakfast" at 6.30am and then rowing sprints at 7am before "second breakfast".
The rest of the day was divided into a marathon of rowing and eating.
Helen said: "I have to eat as much as I can, whenever I can, with the idea of trying to put it back because you burn so much energy. Eating is like another session. Your body weight is monitored and you can get a kick up the backside if you're not keeping your weight up.
"I will eat as healthily as possible but if I get to the end of the day and I haven't hit my calorie count I will sit and eat Dairy Milk. It makes my friends and family really jealous. I'm actually looking forward to having a break from having to eat so much."
Olympic athletes also have to put their social life on hold.
The former Cardiff University student said: "I've definitely sacrificed my social life. I've got really patient friends and family who don't expect too much from me. It has been a pretty different story to when I was at uni. I used to love going out but I've had no alcohol in four years. But that doesn't feel like a sacrifice now because I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing."
Other sacrifices have been harder to take.
Helen said: "I was out of the country the other day for my Uncle Ben's funeral. Uncle Ben [Glover, the former Pirate] was a massive part of my family. You have to remember that these are the people you are trying to make proud."
But that pride in her achievements spreads beyond her family.
She said: "Lots of people I went to school with and friends are getting in touch to send messages. People come into Jelberts [the family ice cream shop in Newlyn] and ask for my dad to tell him to wish me luck.
"Being part of Penzance Hockey Club and Penzance Tennis Club and Cornwall Athletic Club, all of those people I remember from when I was at home are sending me messages. It gives me an extra edge."
That edge should translate into Olympic gold, but Helen isn't complacent.
She said: "We're really confident in our rowing at the moment but it's really hard to predict what that means in terms of races. We can row as well as we can row but we can't affect what the people in the next lane can do. If they are rowing better than you, you can't affect that. In hockey you can hit them on the ankles!"
Although Helen says she has visualised winning gold "so that you have already rowed that final stretch in your head a hundred times", she is refusing to look beyond the August 1 final.
Asked if she will retire after the games, Helen said: "I'm not planning at all. After the Olympics is like a dead space on my calendar. I'm going to race my race then think about it after."
What is first on her 'to do' list is a trip home for this Penzance girl.
"I love Cornwall and it's the first thing on my to do list – to go home and chill out in Penzance – it's definitely home and family – having a big family [Helen has two brothers and two sisters] is a huge thing.
"My favourite childhood place is Gwithian because when we were really little our parents would take us sledging and playing hide and seek on the sand dunes."
For now though, all thoughts are on the heats at 9.30am on July 28 and the Olympic final on August 1.