Hundreds turn out in Moray for Heather Stanning’s homecoming

OLYMPIC gold medallist Heather Stanning was given a rousing reception as she returned home to Moray, and said she would be proud if just one of the hundreds of children who lined the streets repeated her success.

Brought up in Lossiemouth, where her parents Tim and Mary still live, Stanning rowed to the first of 29 gold medal for Team GB at the London Games.

The former Gordonstoun pupil made history with her rowing partner Helen Glover when they became the first UK female rowers to take gold at any Olympic Games.

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Despite the rain, hundreds of well-wishers turned out to cheer, shout and clap as she was paraded through Elgin town centre yesterday in the back of an open-top army Land Rover.

Royal Artillery Captain Stanning was stunned at the reception, and several times leapt from the vehicle to hug and thank the crowds.

After being presented with a scroll on behalf of Moray Council, she said: “I have to give a big thank you to everyone. The last few weeks have been very surreal for me and Helen, but it has been fantastic.

“We are just overwhelmed by the support we have had, both in the build-up and after winning the gold.

“I am overwhelmed by the number of children on the streets.

“If only one went on to achieve what I have, I would be so happy for them.

“The future is all theirs. If I can inspire just one child to reach their dreams, that would be great. I would be so proud.

“It doesn’t have to be rowing, or even sport, but whatever their dream is, and they look at me achieving my dream and are then inspired to follow their dream, it would be great.”

Stanning said she would be enjoying a short break at her parents’ home before returning to the Royal Artillery barracks and resuming her “normal life”.

She will not be going immediately back into training for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, as rowing is not included.

But the next Olympics being staged in Brazil – and competing to retain the pair’s rowing title – is already a target. She said: “If my body stays injury-free then potentially yes.” Stanning also revealed that she wakes up each morning and checks her medal to ensure her Olympic experience was real.

“London was just fantastic. A real buzz,” she said.

Hundreds of people lined the streets, some shutting up their shops, to hail a home-grown Olympic gold medallist. Many waved Union flags.

Amy Robertson, manager of the Money Shop Pawnbroker, got to hug Stanning and grasp the medal. She told her: “I will give you £500 for it.”

Kyle Mackenzie, a local primary school pupil, said: “She is a real inspiration. We all loved watching her.”

After parading through Elgin for 45 minutes, Stanning attended a formal reception at Moray Council headquarters.

Convener Stewart Cree described her as “a lady who has made Moray, Scotland and the whole of Great Britain very proud by achieving that most coveted of all sporting accolades, an Olympic gold medal”.

As big screens replayed the moment of victory, he added: “Heather and her rowing partner Helen Glover left the rest of the field in their wake as they won the women’s pairs final by a country mile – or perhaps that should be a nautical mile, since Heather’s parents, Tim and Mary, both served in the Royal Navy.

“It is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that – for that moment in time – Moray had won more gold medals than the rest of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Holland, Greece, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, India and many other countries all put together.

“Heather’s achievement will be an inspiration to many young people across the country and the greatest legacy of that marvellous moment will be when some of those aspiring youngsters go on to reach whatever sporting targets they set for themselves.”

Stanning went on to her home town of Lossiemouth, where she had an informal 
afternoon of tea and cakes 
at the Town Hall – with 
hundreds more well-wishers – before seeing her special gold postbox for the very first time. Local councillor Carolle Ralph said: “The local community wanted to welcome Heather back to Lossiemouth and celebrate her success in not only winning the first gold with her partner Helen Glover, but also the first ever women’s gold in rowing.

“We wanted to show her how proud we are of her historic achievement and mark what is a first for Lossie, indeed for Moray.”

Stanning also met with Abigail O’Grady, who carried the official Olympic Torch through Moray ahead of the games.

Next week, Heather is planning to attend schools in Lossiemouth as they return after their summer break.

This includes a visit to Keith Primary School and meeting former teacher Marci Verdi, who has stayed in touch with Heather over the years, and her excited pupils.