Helen Vanderburg



She was the first Canadian to dominate international synchronized swimming.

In the late 1970s, Vanderburg carved a channel in Canada for future synchronized swimming Olympians. By the age of eleven, Vanderburg was an avid swimmer. But the daughter of Dutch parents wanted to be a dancer and so her parents signed her up with a new synchronized swimming club at the local YWCA. Instead of dancing on wooden boards, in the end, Vanderburg would create ballet in the water.

She joined the Aqua Bells of Calgary with coach Debbie Muir, and in 1973 she became Canada’s junior champion.

Five years later at the first world aquatic games in Berlin in 1978, she won the gold medal in both the solo and duet categories. For the next three seasons, Vanderburg was invincible. First she’d win solos, then with Michelle Calkins, the duets. In 1978 and 1979 she received the Elaine Tanner Trophy, and in 1979 she was named Canadian female athlete of the year.

Unfortunately, she didn't make it to the Olympics because Canada boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, which were the first to include synchronized swimming. In the end, Vanderburg always said that Olympic gold didn't matter to her: "My goal in life was to win the worlds, which I did, and the Olympics would have just been a nice icing on the cake."

In 1983 she was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.

Helen Vanderburg of Calgary, Alberta. A Footprint in the deck of Canadian sport.