Training partners make for good friends and shared success

Date: 31st March 2021

Zoe Neale and Taylah Perry are good friends and both are in the mix for the Change Our Game Women’s Gift following their impressive one-two at the Ballarat Gift. They share the experience of being in a Stawell Gift final and each would be thrilled to go one better this year.

The training partners are coached by Ringwood Athletic Club’s Shane McKenzie who said: “Zoe’s running really well, her and Taylah are almost on the same marks. They have a shared success from training together, they have similar goals, spend so much time with each other it’s no surprise that they race well.”

Taylah’s handicap will be 5.5m while Zoe is slightly back at 4.5m after clocking the fastest time by a female athlete at the Ballarat Gift. “Zoe has a tough task ahead of her for Stawell as her times have been too fast, so she has only received a slight lift,” said Shane, himself a Stawell Gift finalist in 1990 who enjoys “giving back to the sport which has given me so much.”

“Finishing the VAL season with the Stawell Gift always feels extra special, its’s the cumulation of hours of training and racing coming together in one grand finale – the atmosphere when you walk through the gates at Central Park is unmatched by any other athletics carnival in the country,” said Taylah.

Making the final of the Women’s Gift in 2017 is Taylah’s running career highlight so far and it has made her eager to achieve more. “Once you make a Stawell final nothing really compares and all you want to do is not only make it again but cross the line first!

“Making a Stawell Gift final and losing gave me the perspective I needed to realise just how special a Stawell Gift sash is – it taught me to enjoy the ride, the training, the racing in the lead up and the very moment when you’re being paraded rather than just the end result.

“Winning a Stawell Gift would mean the world to me and every other athlete I know, there is only one Stawell Gift, winning is making history and the type of story that your family will talk about for decades to come.

 After a challenging pre-season of training in lockdown I’m really happy with how I’m moving these season – Ballarat was a stand out for me, I didn’t think I was quite moving that fast yet so it was a nice surprise. Hopefully I can take some of that speed to Stawell this year but I think there are a lot of other girls in better shape than me that will be running on Easter Monday!

Taylah works for Little Athletics Victoria dedicating herself to the “future athletes of our sport and working with our Centres across the state to continually improve the grass roots athletics experience. I am also the new President of the Ringwood Athletics Club and am a firm believer ‘you get back what you put it’ – joining the committee has grown my knowledge and experience in running a Club at grass roots level and helped me identify what I can bring to grow not just our Club but our sport in general.”

“I personally love the opportunity that pro running provides – I love that no matter your ability you will always have an opportunity to shine, you don’t have to be the best athlete in the line-up to feel like a winner. 

“No one wants to be beaten week in and week out by the same athletes. Competing in the VAL is exciting every week because no one knows who’s going to win until the athletes cross the line. The atmosphere in pro running is totally different to that of any other athletics, everyone knows each other and everyone is friends, even with a good dose of healthy competition.”

It was seeing teammate Taylah run at Stawell that inspired Zoe Neale when she was only 15.

“The Stawell Gift is special to me, I remember watching it every Easter while I was on holidays. The year Taylah Perry was in the Women’s Final, I remember so clearly pulling over on the side of the road when my family and I were driving home from our Easter holiday. From that moment seeing Taylah running in the Women’s Gift final I knew that to run at Stawell and to make the final was something I aspired to achieve.

“Being at Stawell is so special, the feeling you get as you walk through that gates is something so very different and distinct as there has been so much history made at Central Park.

“To win Stawell would mean everything to me. There is so much prestige and history around this famous race and to have my name alongside so many other amazing runners would be so incredibly special and a feeling that I can’t really imagine.

“I have been happy with my season this year and feel I have stepped up a level and have seen improvements which I’m very pleased about. Especially the last few weeks, everything is starting to click and the results are showing that my hard training is starting to pay off. I hope to continue my form into Stawell and give it my best shot. I’m so looking forward to giving it everything I have got and I really hope I can surprise myself.

Zoe says her biggest running achievements to date have been winning the Ballarat Gift and being a Women’s Gift finalist in Stawell in 2019 as a 17 year old.  “To make that quality field and to run alongside some of Australia’s current best sprinters was an incredible experience.”

“I love pro running because of the culture and atmosphere each week compared to other athletic events. I love how team orientated that an individual sport can be and that it gives so many more runners an opportunity to succeed. Pro running has given me the opportunity to meet so many new people who are now some of my very closest friends.”

Photo by Adam Trafford. From left to right: Taylah Perry, Zoe Neale, Shane McKenzie, Zoe Glassborow

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