Kimberley Parkes: Reflections on Winning the Stawell Gift 30 Years Ago

Date: 24th March 2024

The Pinnacle of Pro Running

For Kimberley Parkes (now Coppola), winning the Stawell Gift in 1994 remains a deeply personal triumph.

As a young athlete navigating the pro running scene, she was no stranger to the hushed murmurs that elevated the Stawell Gift to its revered status.

“Growing up on the pro circuit you soon learn through the whispers of men (back then) the Stawell Gift is the pinnacle of running races,” Kimberley recalls.

“I’d decided in my late teens to start sprint training, running in both amateur and pro meets as professional running became inclusive for women. Pro running was by far the most fun of the circuits for me due to the handicapping system where all races were tightly finished. I really enjoyed the mix of competitors and the uncertainty of race results.”

Under the guidance of her father Kimberley embarked on a training programme in her late teens. Their focus was on long-term ambitions rather than the immediate pursuit of a Stawell victory. But fate had its own plans.

“I was trained by my father Gary Parkes. While we never discussed ever trying to win a Stawell Gift it was honestly pure luck in the process of improving as I focused on longer term ambitions through the sprint training.”

The memory of that day remains vivid

“I’d had a few good lead up races prior to turning up to the 100m run in 1994. However, I knew that anything could happen on the day. I remember qualifying for the final and feeling relatively satisfied or calm, until the day… I laugh as I reminisce.

“I’m someone who likes quiet space I don’t want to talk to much before I race. I like time to focus on the process. So my dad didn’t take me to Central Park until it was time to warm up. 

“I remember so clearly walking through the front gates heading toward the track and feeling my stomach drop to what felt like the floor. My nerves kicked in and I thought I was going to be sick. I ran my race plan through my head again as I started to warm up. Anything could happen today I thought but if I don’t get away quickly, which definitely was NOT my strong point, it would be difficult to hold a position up front.

 “As the story goes, I was lucky enough to execute the race plan and hold a winning place.”

What the win taught me

The win taught Kimberley invaluable lessons that resonate with her still. Though her sprinting days are behind her, the echoes of those lessons reverberate through Kimberley’s life.

“To this day running on the pro circuit and training in athletics has absolutely, undoubtably paved the way for future pursuits. It teaches you discipline. It’s like a template to achieve. I think anyone who has trained in a chosen sport knows that every success requires dedication to turning up, even when you don’t feel like it. 

“At this stage I’m no longer involved in sprint athletics. I enjoy the odd fun run with the family and especially adore watching my three children grow into their chosen sports. I love being able to relate to their wins and losses.

Heading back to Stawell in 2024

“This year as I return to Stawell after 29 years, I feel so excited. Firstly, that the Sash Club has invited me and secondly to show my children the grandness of the Stawell Gift. 

“I have been living overseas and interstate so the opportunity to be back in Stawell will most certainly be savoured.”

Kimberley won the 1994 Strickland Family Womens Gift in 11.21s with a handicap of 10.5m.


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