Olympic champion Heather Stanning talks to Wiltshire magazine

PUBLISHED: 16:23 12 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:29 20 February 2013

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning

Having won Britain's first Olympic 2012 Gold, super-rower Captain Heather Stanning talks about her military challenges in Wiltshire

Olympic champion Heather Stanning talks to Wiltshire magazine

Having won Britains first Olympic 2012 Gold, super-rower Captain Heather Stanning talks about her military challenges in Wiltshire

Words: Jess Bate

I barely heard her enter the office where I was conducting the interview. Hi!, said Heather. In one word, she had totally put me at ease. Slightly awestruck, I was only capable of replying Hi Heather!, as casually as I could muster. Such is her unstarry persona that it wasnt long before we were chatting and laughing about her incredible last few months.
Winning gold, in front of a home crowd and on such a world stage, Heather is remarkably reticent about it and very humble. Since the Olympics, I have been recognised a few times but I can be unnoticed. It is only when I go with friends to the pub and one of the group says something loudly that it jogs someones memory then I get recognised. When we went to the Pride of Britain Awards it was really lovely that it was not about me. It was about normal people doing incredible things that saved lives.
Tall, lean and clearly 100% honed muscle under her baggy uniform, Heather tells me about her love of the Army, her soldiers and, of course, rowing. Having started her career on the water at Bath University, Heathers Army path began much earlier. I decided at school that I wanted adventure and to play sport, and was so impressed by the Army careers officers chat that I started the ball rolling.
Both Heathers parents were in the Navy (as well as other members of her family serving in either the Navy or the Army), but Heather chose green rather than blue, and specifically chose the Royal Artillery one Christmas when she was a teenager. I saw a friend of mine on her parents Christmas card - a picture of her in a tank. Looking like she was having an adventure made me want to join the Army too!
Since 2008, when she joined 32 Regiment Royal Artillery based in Larkhill, Heather has done two lots of preparatory operational tour training, but her deployments did not materialise once her rowing potential was realised.
I am currently learning my job for a future deployment to Afghanistan and completing a series of courses on flight safety and role-specific tasks I will need to handle once we are out there. My military knowledge currency only lasts a couple of years, so I need to brush up on my Artillery and Army skills before we deploy with the Unmanned Air Systems assets.
Every rower is affiliated to a Boat Club, and Heather is a member of the Army Boat Club. Luckily for her, it is about to be relocated and established at Reading where most of her training has taken place, but for now her oars are not in use. She is having a complete break to concentrate on her Army career and is enjoying having something of a more normal life without diet and physical training ruling each waking moment.
So the burning question finally gets aired, after much prompting from my mini-Jeremy Paxmans at home Are you going to Rio in 2016? Heather replies: Ideally I will spend a good amount of time with the Regiment here in Wiltshire before resuming rowing training at the end of 2013. There is much to do before I can even start to get selected by the British Rowing Squad and then, hopefully, the Olympic Team. It is amazing, when you break it down, how quickly three years will go in terms of rowing racing and selection at the various different levels.
Whilst Heather would be delighted to row with her Olympic partner Helen Glover again, she remains realistic about this actually happening. Helen is already training now, whereas I am taking 18 months off. The most important thing is to get the best combination in the boat, so it may be that in three years time, I am better suited to row with someone else, but I would love to try to defend our title with Helen in Rio.
Heathers time in Wiltshire has been a happy one: her grandfather was in Amesbury Abbey for a while, and she has been based in the county for the last five years.
Heather says: I find it easy to get to everywhere I need to go to from here; to London, to Bath... and we are in beautiful countryside. you do not feel isolated in Wiltshire.As we finish the interview and I get up to leave, I ask for an autograph and she replies, Its so nice to give an autograph to someone I know rather than a stranger.
She receives about five letters per week, mainly from German autograph hunters who seem to comprise the majority of her fan base. But Heather is not wowed by this and takes it all in her stride. Have her soldiers or officer colleagues played any pranks on her to bring her back to earth? No, not yet, she replies, At least not that I am aware of.
This comes as no surprise as there is not a hint of arrogance in her. If only footballers were as humble and self-effacing, the sport would be far less feted and much more appreciated for the physical endurance, personal sacrifice and outstanding achievement that is possible. Heather does not row for the money, she rows because she loves the sport, and if London 2012 was anything to go by, Rio will be just as thrilling to watch.


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