Very different in stature, age and attitude, Helena Lucas and Megan Pascoe are both competing for the Paralympic single-handed class. Matthew Sheahan meets them both
You can’t help wondering how the petite Helena Lucas, standing just 5ft 2in, sees over the bow of her 2.4m. On the other hand it’s difficult to imagine how 5ft 8in Megan Pascoe fits into the diminutive one-person keelboat. The cockpit of this single-hander at the miniature end of the metre rule scale has more in common with an F1 racing car than a conventional sailing boat, placing the forward-facing sailor with just their head poking above the deck.
However, not only can the 2.4m cater for a large range in crew height, but the boat’s performance is largely unaffected by crew weight, which is just as well for those in the British women’s Paraympic team trying to secure the coveted place.
At 48kg Helena Lucas is by far the lightest person in the British Squad.
“In Qingdao I was the only one in the team not on a diet,” she beams, with her trademark infectious smile. “I guess I do have a slight advantage in light weather, but I am at a disadvantage in 10-15 knots. Beyond that there is little real difference between being light or heavy.”
Which, given Weymouth’s reputation for delivering a variety of conditions, must be a relief to Megan Pascoe who is also vying for the 2.4m spot. She towers over Lucas and, at 60kg, only seems heavy by comparison because her team mate and arch rival is so light.
Lucas, a graduate of yacht design with a lifetime’s sailing under her belt is an accomplished sailing talent. Born without thumbs, she found that no deterrent to gaining a wealth of experience in able-bodied or disabled sailing, dinghy or keelboat, racing or cruising. She is the gambler’s safe bet.
But, when it comes to choosing an Olympic team member, the selectors still have a tough choice to make between these two competitive sailors from very different backgrounds. Come the event proper, the breeze could do anything and the sailors are equally competent at dealing with whatever is thrown at them.
In age and experience a gap starts to appear. Lucas, the more senior, has a proven track record. But Pascoe, 12 years her junior, exudes the kind of single-minded, fixed focus on success that borders on intimidation, albeit with courtesy and a smile.
Cerebral palsy was no reason not to aspire to anything she felt drawn to in a sporty family where dinghy racing, windsurfing and triathlons were normal weekend activities.
Pascoe’s sharp and clear thinking has compensated for her undermined physical capability. You get the sense that she is starting to discover more strengths in herself as the days go by. Could this be the reason for her rapid and consistent acceleration up the rankings?
The result is a highly focused, competitive woman whose single- minded confidence is born out of careful analysis rather than bone- headed stubbornness.
“I will be competing at the Paralympics; it just might not be this one,” she says with a confident and genuine smile.
Typical training day (Helena Lucas):
0700 – Up, run
0830 – Breakfast
0900 – Morning meeting/daily plan
1030 – On the water training
1230 – Lunch debrief
1400 – On the water training
1600 – Debrief
1700 – Gym
1800 – Admin/logistics/analysis
Coach – Ian Barker
Training partners – each other
Main international competition – Damien Seguin (FRA), Paul Tingley (CAN)
Sailing days per year – 200