Olympic Gold Medallist, Major Heather Stanning OBE, was this week awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Laws) by the University of Bath.

At the ceremony, which took place as part of the University’s summer graduation celebrations at Bath’s Theatre Royal, Major Stanning’s many achievements both as a decorated athlete and from a career in the British Army were recognised.

A graduate from the University in Sports Technology, under a British Army Scholarship, it was at Bath where Heather first began rowing for the University Boat Club in 2004. It was here also where Heather first struck up a rowing partnership with Helen Glover.

The pair went on to create sporting history by winning the women’s pair gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to cap previous success four years earlier at the London 2012 Games – the first medal for Team GB and the first time a GB women’s crew had ever won Olympic Gold. Their Rio victory underlined a dominance and extended their unbeaten record as a partnership of a remarkable thirty nine races. In November 2016, Heather officially announced her retirement from the sport.

Balancing rowing with the Army

In between sporting success, Heather reported back to Larkhill Garrison and resumed her British Army career with the Royal Artillery. She deployed to Afghanistan during the summer of 2013 to work as the Operations Officer for the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Battery in Camp Bastion. She was promoted to the rank of Major in 2016.

Throughout her army career she has also been involved in a number of charities, including Royal British Legion Industries on a campaign called Be Brave With Me, raising awareness and funds on behalf of military veterans struggling to find work or manage their transition back into the civilian world.

Commenting from Bath, Heather said: “It goes without saying really, that it’s a huge honour to be recognised in this way from the University of Bath. I have such fond memories of my time and experiences here, and clearly it was the start of my journey to two Olympic Games.

“I am not an academic, but value the importance of academia in all areas, and I guess what Bath is so good at is the research and development, that is why so many graduates go on to become the driving force in their field of expertise.

“But also it’s not just about studies here, there is so much more to the University. Obviously for me there’s always going to be a bias towards the sports side; yes my studies as an undergraduate were in Sports Technology, and this is also where I learnt the skills of my sport, rowing."

Life-long connections

She added: “Now, 11 years on from my graduation, I look back and wouldn’t change a thing. For the students graduating today, they have an exciting future ahead, there are so many opportunities open to them, but the most important thing is they have a firm foundation to build whatever future they like.

“Bath is the most beautiful city for you all to have spent the last three or four years, I guarantee you’ll all be back at some point!”

In 2013, Heather received an MBE followed by an OBE in 2017 for services to rowing. In March 2016 she was also inducted into the University’s own Hall of Fame for Sport.