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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

HELEN VANDERBURG

Inducted in 1983

Member Details

Date of Birth: January 12, 1959
Place of Birth: Calgary, Alberta
Sport: Synchronized Swimming
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1978

World Aquatic Championships, gold medal - synchro, solo and duet

Elaine Tanner Award, junior female athlete of the year

1979

Pan-American Games, gold medal - synchro, solo and duet

FINA World Cup, gold medal - synchro, solo and duet

Honoured Member HELEN VANDERBURG
Inspire

Story

From a frail kid whose parents thought that swimming would be good for her, Helen Vanderburg rose to become the world's best synchronized swimmer in the late 1970s and in the process brought added visibility and credibility to her sport. Born in Calgary, Vanderburg began synchronized swimming in 1969 at age eleven. From 1971 to 1973, she was a member of junior national championship teams, and in 1973 she captured the junior Canadian solo and duet championships. Vanderburg was a member of the Calgary Aquabelles synchro team, coached by fellow Canada's Sports Hall of Fame inductee Debbie Muir. It was with Aquabelles teammates that Vanderburg achieved much of her success in the team and duet events. To meet the athletic and artistic demands of synchro, she spent five hours a day in the pool at the Calgary YMCA in addition to weight training and dance classes. Without the benefit of the international exposure of the Olympic Games - synchro was not added to the Olympic program until 1984 - Vanderburg dominated what competitions were available to her. At the 1975 Pan-American Games, Vanderburg and her Aquabelles teammates won a silver medal behind the dominant American team in the synchro team event. They improved to a gold medal at the 1976 Pan-Pacific Games. In 1977, Vanderburg emerged on the national senior stage, capturing the solo and duet (with partner Michelle Calkins) events at the Canadian championships, the first of three years that she won both events. She would add gold medals in the figures at the national championships in 1978 and 1979. It was in 1978 that Vanderburg and her teammates travelled to West Berlin for the first official World Aquatic Championships. In a sport that had heretofore been dominated by U.S. swimmers, Vanderburg, performing a routine that included 40 seconds of arabesques executed entirely underwater, swam to the solo world synchro championship. She and Calkins also teamed up to win gold in the duet. In both 1977 and 1978, Vanderburg was given the Elaine Tanner Award as Canada's junior female athlete of the year. Entering the season as defending world champion, it was tough to imagine that 1979 could be a better year in the pool than 1978. Before the year was out, however, Vanderburg had achieved a remarkable sweep of the world's major synchronized swimming competitions. At the Pan-American Games in Puerto Rico, the Canadian team ended the U.S. stranglehold on synchro medals. Vanderburg won the solo event and teamed with new partner Kelly Krzyka (replacing the retired Calkins) to capture the duet, while Canada won silver in the team competition. At the FINA World Cup meet in Tokyo, Vanderburg won the solo and duet (again with Krzyka). She finished the year by winning the solo gold medal at the Pan-Pacific Games. Her tremendous season in the pool earned her the Velma Springstead Award as the female athlete of the year and she was named the Aquatic Federation of Canada's swimmer of the year. The 1979 Pan-Pacific Games were Vanderburg's last international synchro meet. She retired from competitive swimming at age 22. After finished her degree in physical education, she turned to coaching with Aquabelles and was a coach with the 1996 Olympic team. Today, Vanderburg is a successful fitness trainer in Calgary, and the Synchro Canada outstanding junior award is named in her honour.


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