Helen Brownlee has been devoted to canoeing for more than 50 years as a competitor, judge and administrator. Helen started in competitive canoeing as a teenager under the guidance of her father Os Brownlee, who was one of the founding members of Australian Canoeing. Her paddling took her from river touring to sprint competition and to slalom and wildwater disciplines. She won medals at state, national and international events, including Australia’s first international slalom medal.
Helen was a judge at the 1972 Munich and 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and a member of the competition jury at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. A groundbreaker for women in sports administration, she worked her way up to become President of the Australian Canoe Federation, a position she held for 14 years, and was given Life Membership. Helen is a Director of the International Canoe Federation, President of the Commonwealth Canoe Federation and the Oceania Canoe Federation, Chair of the Oceania National Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Commission.
Helen is the first woman to be awarded Life Membership of the Australian Olympic Committee. She is also the first woman elected to the Australian Olympic Committee executive board and in 2013 became the Vice President. Helen is also the President of the NSW Olympic Council, a position she has held since 1990.
Shortly before being inducted into The Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2015 Helen was awarded the Olympic Order for her significant contribution to world sport and her dedication to upholding the Olympic ideals. It was presented to her by the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, during the Oceania National Olympic Committee’s general assembly in Fiji.
Helen has been honoured by the International Olympic Committee for her work in education and invited to become a member of the IOC Commission for Culture and Olympic Education. A strong advocate for the involvement of more women in sport, in 2002 she was awarded the IOC Women and Sport Trophy of Oceania in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the promotion of women in sport. In 1985, Helen was awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia) for services to the sport of canoeing and 2010 was inducted into the International Whitewater Hall of Fame. In 2015, Helen was then inducted in the Australian Sports Hall of Fame. In the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours Helen Brownlee was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
Given the opportunity to develop programs and initiatives for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, she earned the International Fair Play Trophy on behalf of the teachers and students of NSW for their “unreserved support” of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the spirit of solidarity, tolerance and fair play.