Heather Stanning will feature in this weekend’s Winter Assessment at Eton-Dorney

Arriving at the start of her studies at the University of Bath in 2004, Heather Stanning decided she wanted to try something new that she hadn’t had the opportunity to do at school. 

Already at an advantage due to her physique, it was Heather’s height that prompted several people to encourage her to give rowing a try and join the University rowing club. 

Despite having never sculled before, she certainly made an impression on GB Rowing Team Start Coach Paul Stannard who identified her potential.  Unfortunately, her raw talent initially didn’t quite meet the testing criteria to be accepted onto the Start programme, however Stannard had faith in her and was keen to get her involved with the Bath training group. 

“I spent the first year on TASS (Talented Athlete Sports Scholarship) funding and trained hard with Paul.  It paid off in 2006 when I won the student indoor rowing championships and was consequently accepted onto the Start programme.”

Fitting in rowing training every day and completing a degree in Sports Technology at the University of Bath was certainly a challenge.  Heather is extremely thankful to Stannard who was very good at organising the demanding training programme around her studies.

“We had a certain amount of mileage to complete each week amongst other set sessions.  On the days when there were less lectures I spent more time on the water and when I was on campus we did more gym work”, she explained.

Heather identifies that it was critical to have good time management skills so as to get the most out of the programme and maximise the benefits.  In order to unlock the true potential of aspiring rowers, the Start programme amongst other things required requires a lot of ambition, hard work, determination and commitment to cope with the high volume of training. 

Regular testing for Start rowers is a rigorous process, comprising strength, power and endurance tests such as the incremental bike assessment to track their progress throughout the programme.  

“The mental side of things really comes into it, you start to ask yourself how much harder you can push yourself and each time you realise you can always give a little bit more”, she said.

When Heather first got into the Start programme her aim was to make the U23 squad in the summer of 2007.  It was a goal she passed with flying colours, racing to victory in the World Rowing U23 Championships women’s pair with Olivia Whitlam. 

Heather is certainly no stranger to the challenge of tough training though.  She was accepted into University with an Army bursary as part of the UOTC (University Officer Training Corps) and a place at Sandhurst Military Academy was there after she had graduated. Before that, Stanning won world U23 gold in the women’s pair.

During her time at Sandhurst, rowing took a back seat and so did her social life, although the early mornings didn’t change.

“I went from balancing my degree, rowing and having a social life basically to making sure I turned up on time, in the right clothing and making sure I didn’t get shouted at!  There is a lot to learn in a short space of time but I loved the military training, I like having routine and being told what to do so it suited me well”, she commented.

The door was always left open however for Heather to rejoin the Start programme, which she subsequently did after completing her training year at Sandhurst in 2008. 

“That’s the great thing about the Start programme, it’s always there for us to go back to.  Whether someone has transitioned into the U23 squad and then got injured or has taken some time out and wants to get back into rowing as I did.” 

Whilst being commissioned into with the Royal Artillery at Larkhill in Wiltshire, Heather did some rowing with the Army and decided she wanted to take it up full time again.  Fortunately she was able to continue her rowing training in Bath and, for 14 months, Heather was both working and training full time. 

Stannard adapted her programme so that in the week she could complete her land training and at weekends she would travel to Bath to complete her training on the water, again emphasising that throughout her career as a rower the two key ingredients to her success have been time management skills and determination to achieve. 

“Looking after yourself and your time is extremely important and the platform on which to build success.  The best piece of advice I would give is to listen to your coach and do everything they tell you, no matter how hard it is as they are doing it for your best interests.  But most importantly you have got to enjoy rowing and love what you do”, she counselled.

Prior to taking up rowing, Heather’s main interests were sailing and snowboarding, although there isn’t much time to do either now but she hopes to continue with them again in the future.  In her spare time, other hobbies include cooking, reading and watching movies, she also enjoys spending time with her old school friends who aren’t involved in the rowing scene.  When asked what she would be doing if she wasn’t a rower, her answer was to be in the army full time. 

Since April 2010 Heather has been a part of the senior squad, most recently rowing to a silver in a breakthrough performance at the World Rowing Championships in the women’s pair with Helen Glover in New Zealand last November.  Now, with her army duties on hold until after London 2012, Heather is able to train full time with the GB Rowing Team squad with the aim of being in one of the boats for the Olympic Games. 


The GB Rowing Team ‘Start’ programme supported by the Lottery Sports Fund and sponsored by Siemens is a national talent identification and development scheme that aims to find, recruit and develop new, emerging talent through a network of regional rowing bases across the country. 
Since its inception in 2001 the programme, its members, coaches and local host clubs have grown from strength to strength, each year feeding an increasing number of rowers through to the senior squad.  Initially termed the World Class Start Programme many athletes have gone on to represent GB at senior level including Annabel Vernon, Anna Bebington (now Watkins) and Olivia Whitlam who competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. 
A series of tests are completed to indicate potential in the sport of rowing and selected athletes are based at one of the host clubs across the country where they are supported and developed by a full time coach and follow an intensive training programme.

Heather Stanning, Mohamed Sbihi, Anna Watkins and Sam Townsend – all world cup or world championships medallists – have all graduated from the programme and are going to feature on gbrowingteam.org.uk in February and March to share their experiences of the project and how it has helped them on their way to achieving their dreams. 

For media enquiries about the GB Rowing Teams please contact:

Caroline Searle

T:  (01225) 443998
M:  (07831) 755351

e:  caroline@matchtight.co.uk