IT was not Kat Copeland’s idea to get in a boat.

But neither was there anyone pushing her into the sport as a child – no pushy parent forcing a training regime at a too tender an age.

In truth, Kat – known as Kate or Katherine to her oldest friends and family – was a normal fun-loving girl, looking for an activity to do with her teenage friends at Yarm School, near Stockton.

Her former sports teacher and longest serving coach, Andy Clark, takes up the story of how the region’s only female gold medal winner in London took to the water.

“It was her friend who was into rowing,” he remembers.

“But she was the only one in the whole school.

“I said, ‘go and find some friends’, and she found Kat and a few others and we set up a little rowing club.

“This was when they were in their third year, so 13 or 14 years old.”

It started as a fun activity – albeit one with a competitive edge – for the girls. But it didn’t take long for the girl from Ingleby Barwick to begin to stand out.

Mr Clark ticks off the girls’ achievements. They won silver in the national schools championships the following year and Kat was part of a team that won gold in the quads in another national championships shortly afterwards.

The following year she was part of a team that won gold in the Youth British Championships and she was to represent her country in the Junior European Championships.

But there was more to Kat than simply being a solid team member.

“It was in her second year of rowing that I approached her parents, Penny and Derek, and said ‘She’s special’.

“She was always asking questions, always working on ways to improve her performance.”

Her dedication to training began to take over.

“It wasn’t unusual for me to get a call from Kat asking, ‘can I go out in the boat on Sunday.’ “On my day off I’d get up, her parents would come down and we’d put in a session. It was a pleasure to do it.”

Kat’s stature as a rower continued to grow. Mr Clark, learning the Great Britain junior rowing coach was in the region, persuaded him to give a talk at the school.

He took the opportunity to tell the national figure about Kat. Not long afterwards, the young rower was chosen to take part in a national training camp and she was on the long road to the Olympics.

In sixth form, it was time for the young star to go to Tees Rowing Club where she could be trained by James Harris, who identifies and trains seriously talented young rowers on behalf of the Great British Rowing Team.

However Kat and her parents never forgot the role Mr Clark played in developing Kat’s talent.

“They got me a ticket to see her,” he says. “I was very excited, we all were, to see her get the gold. It was beyond anyone’s dream. But it was all down to her, all self-drive. It’s natural to her to want to be the best.

“What’s more she’s a really nice, bubbly person, who works hard and has a fantastic aura around her. Everything she’s got, she got herself and she thoroughly deserves it.”