Helen Godfrey is a GP of Guyanese British descent who has qualified for the Great Britain Age-Group Team, but due to the pandemic, has been unable to make her debut.
Based on her experiences growing up, at medical school and throughout her sporting life, she’s keen to see more people from different backgrounds take up swim, bike, run.
“I grew up in Clitheroe in Lancashire and there wasn’t much diversity growing up,” Godfrey said. “We [her and her brother] were really sporty, taking part in swimming clubs, karate and skiing, but we were one of the only brown families in the area.
“In a way it was normal for me to be the only non-white face and it didn’t stop me going to different clubs, but we did have some racism growing up.
“I always say I’m a brown, English girl because I was born and brought up here. I’m a real mix actually. There’s a lot of Indian, but my great, great grandfather was white Scottish and there’s Dutch in my family as well. There’s British Guyana, French Guyana and Dutch Guyana, so there’s a lot of mixture there.
“I’m a red rose from Lancashire, but living where I do now, Yorkshire’s been so good to me I usually say I’m a ‘pink rose’ which winds them both up actually.”
Having grown up in Lancashire and spent a bit of holiday and student elective time in the Caribbean, studying medicine and settling in the North East, she calls England home and, like for many, getting involved in sport with friends and the support of those around her has enabled her to find something she really enjoys in triathlon and multisport.
As a strong swimmer, Godfrey entered a local triathlon as part of a relay team with her completing the swim leg. Despite being confident and competent in a pool, open water swimming was something she’d never been keen on.
“I was a bit scared of open water in England,” she commented. “I like the warmth, temperatures like Spain as a minimum. I even wore a wetsuit scuba-diving in the Caribbean, so I couldn’t imagine getting into open water here, it was just ridiculous.
“It was four weeks before [the race] and my friend was like ‘you’d better get in open water before we commit to this’, so I went to a local lake and did one lap, then the next week I did two, then three and I did the relay. I found it hard to explain to people why I was getting into open water when everyone knew how cold I always was.”
Having tasted triathlon as part of a team, Godfrey set about completing a number of races on her own having been hooked by the sport and, despite having a break from the sport because of injury and for her family, made a return to multisport and has helped inspire many others from various backgrounds to get involved too.
“Whether we’re talking about diversity in terms of colour and race or just generally with age, gender or background, it’s saying that you can do these things,” Godfrey commented.
“I have a variety of people who can relate to me from being a mum, a working mum, a doctor, being in my forties and just starting out on this fun journey.
“Some of my school mum friends are like ‘you did what?’ if I say I’ve been in a cold lake that day and my friends are so proud of me as they know I am juggling so many things. My husband and two daughters hugely supported me. I think what I am trying to say is anyone can give it a try and would be welcomed right in.”
Godfrey qualified for the Great Britain Age-Group Team in 2019 and was set to make her debut for the aquathlon team in 2020 until the pandemic hit. Her debut was once again pushed back as the team was unable to travel to Walchsee in Austria due to travel restrictions.
Despite this however, the team spirit is strong and Godfrey is knitted in with the community of the team as she awaits her maiden international Age-Group race.
“I’ve never experienced racism in triathlon and I know there is a push in sport in general to make things more inclusive. I’ve been welcomed and colour hasn’t been an issue for me in the triathlon world.
“What I love about the triathlon qualification process is that they’re not looking at your colour, they’re just looking at your times. It’s clear cut. I’ve genuinely found triathlon to be the most welcoming and friendly sport for me from beginner all the way through to GB Age-Group.
“I definitely feel a big part of the team, and even though I haven’t competed yet everyone’s welcomed us in. I also think that if I can inspire anyone to take up the sport then that would be excellent.”