Skip to main content

My best teacher: Heather Stanning

The Olympic rowing champion was inspired by a PE teacher at her boarding school who always went beyond what she had to do for pupils

News article image

The Olympic rowing champion was inspired by a PE teacher at her boarding school who always went beyond what she had to do for pupils

My best teacher was probably one of my first PE teachers at Durlston Court, Kirsty Melin. I was quite young when I went there - I was just seven. I was a boarder and she lived in the school.

I remember wanting to do what she was doing. She was a young teacher - she must have been in her twenties - and she was just quite fun. I can't remember what bedtime was, but it must have been about 8pm, and I used to watch her from the window out running on the athletics track. She gave a lot of time to us boarders. Even when my parents were back in the UK and we were just day children, she was very kind to us. She went beyond what she had to do as a teacher.

I wanted to go to boarding school. My brothers were there and I was left on my own. I was the annoying little sister who wanted to do what her brothers were doing. My grandfather lived in the town where we were at school, so we saw family every weekend, but it was nice to have someone like Kirsty who would give you the time of day. Usually, parents would do that every morning and night, but in a boarding school the relationship with teachers is hard to describe. I suppose a lot of it is parenting, except they have to do it with hundreds of children.

I had done a lot of sport already. My parents encouraged us to swim, we had played rugby and done lots of sailing with the family, but the core sports I did at school were really influenced by Kirsty. Athletics was the big one I started there and I loved it all the way through school until I was in my teens.

At Durlston Court, if you were in the top group you did sport every day but if you weren't you took part in different activities, like cooking. I got into the top sports group before a lot of other children my age, because I didn't want to be stuck in a classroom sewing.

Someone who influenced me a lot in my teenage years was my house tutor at Gordonstoun, Lesley Tattersall. She was great at telling me to ignore the background noise and get on with what I wanted to do. If you were playing sport, you got the weekend off school. I played everything and would give everything a go. I was not necessarily good at all of them, but my classmates predicted I would get to the Olympics one day - they just didn't know what I would be doing. (In Stanning's yearbook for her leaving year, she is predicted as "1st Olimpic Gold Winner".)

I started rowing when I was at university. By the time I left school my main sports were swimming, athletics and hockey and I wanted to try something new. People had said I should give rowing a go because it's useful if you're tall and have long arms - which I do. Also, when I went to university I wanted to join one of the more sociable clubs and rowing was the most social, so I suppose I almost joined for the wrong reasons.

I know I've been fortunate and had a lot of opportunity, but I've also said "yes" to a lot of things. Occasionally, friends will say: "When did you last just sit down and hang out?" But in the past few years, the answer to that question has been "quite a lot". When you get to an elite level in sport, recovery is one of the largest parts of training.

I'm due back at work next month and, in terms of rowing, I've not decided if I'll try and carry on and manage the two together. I'll have to sit down with my boss.

Heather Stanning won the first gold medal of the London 2012 Olympics and the first ever British Olympic gold in women's rowing with Helen Glover in the coxless pair. She was talking to Emma Seith

Personal profile

Born: 1985, Somerset

Education: Various schools then Durlston Court, Hampshire; Aberlour House, Moray; Gordonstoun, Moray; University of Bath; the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Career: Commissioned from Sandhurst into the Royal Artillery in August 2008. Now a captain in 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you