REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Life lessons and an enduring legacy left on Central Park

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POWER: Australia's fastest female Melissa Breen is retiring but her lessons to push the limit in Stawell go far beyond Central Park. Picture: The Canberra Times

POWER: Australia's fastest female Melissa Breen is retiring but her lessons to push the limit in Stawell go far beyond Central Park. Picture: The Canberra Times

It is easy to rue what is lost on our sporting grounds this year. Right now many of us would have been devouring the Olympics, watching the best athletes in the world on the biggest sporting stage.

We have hope Tokyo 2020 will be back, same time and same place next year, but we can and should still celebrate what our best athletes have offered.

Canberra-based Melissa Breen retired about a week out from what would have been the Tokyo opening ceremony, unable to go that one year more for what could have been her third Olympic berth.

Australia's fastest woman has left an incredible legacy right here in western Victoria - and it's of national significance.

Every Easter Breen set foot on Central Park, it was more than a battle of the sexes story.

This was always a lesson in striving to be better. A lesson in equality we could take far beyond the Stawell Gift, or athletics, or sport.

It is easy to rue what Australian athletics has lost in Breen, but it is a timely national reminder to never give up.

Easter 2011, Breen lined up as the fifth women in history to line up in the Stawell Gift field. There were those who would say women could never measure up in a male arena. But by what measure?

Breen was back in the Stawell Gift field by 2014, vying to earn a semi-final spot.

She told The Courier at the time, the push for a semi was not about proving naysayers wrong, it was about proving right to her supporters and to herself. Breen was about pushing the limit to what was possible.

Her heat run was narrowly short of a semi but it launched Breen into an outspoken lead role for parity in Australia's richest footrace. The next year this was realised.

INSPIRE: Melissa Breen, often seen in red at Stawell, blazed a path for young Ballarat sprinters like Grace O'Dwyer (blue) to follow.

INSPIRE: Melissa Breen, often seen in red at Stawell, blazed a path for young Ballarat sprinters like Grace O'Dwyer (blue) to follow.

Ballarat's Grace O'Dwyer became the first to capture the Stawell Women Gift sash with an equal $40,000 winner's prize to the men.

Parity has stepped up the women's competition of an Easter Monday. More money on the line lures more highly-decorated athletes which, like any sport, lifts the whole standard of the field.

Parity has crucially demanded the Women's Gift, and the athletes who enter, be taken seriously. These were athletes who train with their male counterparts, who do the same work but who were not valued the same as their male counterparts on a national stage until Easter Monday 2015.

Interestingly, when The Canberra Times asked Breen her favourite sprint memory - after a decade travelling the world - it was not an Olympic Games. It was winning a gift in Albury, 2014, off minus-0.5 metres for her grandfather.

The incredible thing about handicap racing is no matter how far back you start in the chase or how many rivals behind you need to fend off, it is ultimately about striving to be your best. Breen leaves us that lesson from Stawell.

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