Posted by Hopwood Wendy
Date: 27th January 2021
In a series profiling the members of the newly formed Stawell Gift Event Management team, Chair Stephanie Spence talks about why she loves Stawell, the future of the event and what it was like to win at Central Park.
“The Stawell Gift is an iconic event and being entrusted to be part of the group that will guide its evolution and growth is an honour.”
Stephanie has competed in athletics since she was 15 at a state and national level. It was her love of the sport which led her to roles in sports administration during her university days at Latrobe University and beyond. In 2016 Stephanie joined the board of the Victorian Athletic League and became President of the VAL in 2018.
Stephanie brings to SGEM her experience working in higher education, with roles in strategic planning, marketing strategy, event management, customer experience and business process improvement. At the University of Melbourne she has managed university-wide events and international and domestic student recruitment. More recently she has turned her attention to improving the student and staff experience.
As Chair of Stawell Gift Event Management Ltd, Stephanie’s role is to steer the group’s long-term commitment to build on the famous and iconic Australian sporting event.
“The SGEM brings together people with local expertise and regional knowledge as well as strong commercial and marketing expertise to strengthen the existing event knowledge and operations. As Chair I play a major coordinating role in ensuring we remain on track with all the plans.
“The future is exciting, and the hope is to be able to bring more people to the region at Easter to engage in the Stawell Gift and related activities that the Northern Grampians Shire has to offer.
“There are so many special things about the Stawell Gift. I love the history associated with the Giftand I especially love that so many people have a connection to the race.
Often when I talk with people about my involvement, I hear from them that they have a cousin, aunty, uncle or neighbour that has attended and raced or won and you can see that they are proud to have that story.
“That is the beauty of the Gift – you don’t have to be the best in the state, you can be an everyday runner who works hard and still grabs a piece of history.”
Equal prize money for the Men’s and Women’s Gifts at Stawell in 2016 was a turning point for professional running and Stephanie agrees that female athletes are being recognised for their training, dedication and time commitment.
“A lot of good quality female athletes (state and nationally ranked) have competed in the professional ranks since the equality in prizemoney at Stawell, which is fantastic for the sport.We have seen an increase in female participation over the last five years which sends a good message to young female athletes that professional running is fun, competitive and inclusive and you don’t have to be the fastest runner in the race to taste success.”
However, Stephanie adds that “equality in professional running isn’t just about males and females. There is a lot of work to be done for distance runners – increased awareness, prestige and prizemoney – as well as for the Masters’ athletes, while ensuring pathways for junior athletes remain open.”
We asked Stephanie what it was like to cross the finish line first in the 800m at Stawell in 2011.
“I felt relieved. To know that all the training, dedication and belief paid off. I was walking on clouds after it happened. My parents made the trip up to Stawell to watch (as they often had in other years) and I was so proud that I could win while they were watching. Early in my racing career I was better known as a sprinter – so to make the change to 800m training and then win a Women’s 800 at Stawell was just fantastic.”
Stephanie went on to win the 400m in Bendigo in 2012 from the back mark and the Rye 120m Diamond in 2013, both highlights in her professional running career.
Stephanie is not competing while she is Chair of SGEM and President of the VAL but she doesn’t rule out a comeback in the future. “I would like to return to competing one day, perhaps when my kids are a little older and I can dedicate more time to training. For now, most of the running I do is chasing my kids.”
Posted by Hopwood Wendy
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