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Major Heather Mary Stanning OBE RA: oration

Read Dr Cassie Wilson's oration on Heather Stanning for the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in July 2018.


Major Heather Stanning OBE
Major Heather Stanning OBE

Vice-Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce Heather Stanning. When Heather and her rowing partner, Helen Glover, famously struck gold at London 2012, they became the first British women ever to win an Olympic rowing title. Following that success, they went on to dominate the field, becoming the first British rowers to hold the Olympic, World, European and World Cup titles plus Olympic, World and European records, simultaneously.

There were early signs of Heather’s sporting ability, with her school yearbook predicting that she would be the first one to win an Olympic Gold medal. Having won a British Army scholarship while at school, Heather came to the University of Bath to study Sports Technology. It was here that her Olympic journey began. She joined the GB Rowing Team Start Programme and, coached by Paul Stannard, was selected for the 2007 World U23 Championships and winning women’s pair gold with partner Olivia Whitlam.

After enjoying further UK success, Heather made her senior GB Rowing Team debut as part of the women’s eight that finished seventh at the 2009 European Championships. She began her international partnership with fellow Bath Start graduate, Helen Glover, the following year. After making good progress on the world cup circuit, the pair made a major breakthrough when they won a silver medal at the World Championships in New Zealand in 2010 and repeated this in Slovenia the following year. After winning gold at all three world cup regattas in 2012, Heather and Helen made history at Eton Dorney, when they won Team GB’s first, eagerly awaited, gold medal of London 2012, an achievement for which they both received MBEs in 2013.

Following her Olympic 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. Her return to world class rowing following this was challenging and required a huge amount of dedication and determination, something which is certainly not unfamiliar to Heather. All the hard work was worth it when in 2016, Heather and Helen claimed another historic victory by retaining their Olympic title at Rio 2016. This win underlined their dominance and extended their unbeaten record as a partnership to a remarkable thirty nine races. In 2017 Heather was awarded an OBE for services to rowing.

While her sporting triumphs are remarkable, Heather’s achievements in her military career should also be celebrated. Heather was promoted to the rank of Major in 2016 at her first opportunity, in recognition of her efforts to keep on par professionally with her peers, despite spending large amounts of time away from work concentrating on her rowing. Her diligent, selfless work in Afghanistan alongside her military colleagues reignited her passion for military service but also confirmed her desire to continue rowing to Rio in 2016. She has also worked with a number of military 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.

Heather was inducted into the University’s Sporting Hall of fame in March 2016 and is a wonderful ambassador for the University, actively supporting it whenever she can and acting as a great mentor and inspiration to many athletes.

Vice- Chancellor, I present to you Heather Stanning who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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