Williamstown’s Helen Smith has been appointed a member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours for her service to fencing as an Olympic athlete, coach, mentor and referee.
Ms Smith started fencing 48 years ago at age 14, competing at numerous world championships and as an Olympic athlete at Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles.
She started the Williamstown Fencing Club in 1976 and was Commonwealth champion in 1978.
The former Williamstown High School teacher said the popular appeal of fencing had grown because of shows like Game of Thrones and Star Wars.
She said it appealed to her because it was physically, mentally and psychologically demanding.
“It is like being in a real combat when you’re out there on the piece,” Ms Smith said.
“There’s a lot of tactics, a lot of strategy involved, and when you win a bout, or even sometimes if you just score some hits against someone who you know is a superior opponent, it’s very very rewarding.
“Every time you step on the strip you have to dig deep because there’s no one else to fall back on, there’s no other team member there on the piece with you.’’
Helen Smith. Photo: Damjan Janevski
Ms Smith said she felt very honoured at the recognition.
“I’ve almost got tears in my eyes,” she said.
“It’s a great honour – I suppose that’s what it’s meant to be. I guess it’s nice to think that I might have done enough to deserve that.”
Ms Smith teared up as she acknowledged those who helped her along the way, including her friend Joan Kirner.
“You don’t get to be recognised and achieve all the things that I have achieved without the support of your family, particularly, my husband, my kids, and all the other people in my world of sport and in the community,” she said.
“I’ve had support from Joan Kirner over the years and it’s really sad for me to see her pass so early in her life and she’s been an amazing woman; I think she’s touched so many people in so many ways and you always felt you had her support and she made you feel a bit special even though she’s met some of the most powerful and amazing people in the world like Nelson Mandela and Hilary Clinton.
“I guess I feel that without the support of many people like Joan in my sporting career – my teachers and my coaches and my mentors – without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done.”
Ms Smith has been president of the Commonwealth Fencing Federation and Oceania Fencing Confederation since 2002.
In 2013, she was inducted in to the International Fencing Hall of Fame and was awarded the Maitre d’Armes (Master of Arms) by the Oceania Fencing Masters Academy in 1992.