Newcastle Runners Prepare for Powercor Stawell Gift: A Showcase of Talent and Determination

Date: 6th March 2024

As the Powercor Stawell Gift approaches, a group of runners from Newcastle, NSW, is preparing to make their mark on the iconic Easter event. The contingent includes several squads, all honing their skills at the Fearnley Dawes Athletic Track, as well as the Maitland Regional Athletics Centre.

 Ramona Casey, a standout figure in the Newcastle running community, is not only a successful athlete, but she is instrumental in the staging of several NSW Gifts and mentors a group of promising young athletes. Reflecting on her training grounds, Ramona notes the significance of both venues.

 “We are proud of the Fearnley Dawes track, it is the only track in the world that has dedicated wheelchair training lanes,” said Ramona. But it is the Maitland track which means so much to Ramona as she recalls childhood sessions with her current coach Bruce Gulliver’s father Bob.

 “I’m happiest when I’m training at the Maitland track, it’s nostalgic for me. We also train on grass tracks around the area, trying to find that elusive Stawell uphill track.”

 Ramona’s squad comprises notable talents such as Jasper Thomas, last year’s Bill Howard 100m winner Hugh Sharman, 2017 Stawell Gift winner Matt Rizzo, Luke Eckford, and Jack Newman, alongside twins Abby and Ruby McTernan. The McTernan parents Damien and Heidi are also runners – Heide is a former 400m winner at Stawell.

 Renowned coach Tim Eschebach and his squad of athletes also train at the track and he has five athletes heading to Stawell. He said the aim for his group – Grace Hewitt, Ben Esquilant, Jemma Pollard, Joseph Bradshaw and Nicole Ogle – is to get in “some hard racing ten days out from Nationals.”

 Fellow Novacastrian Ebony Newton is an up-and-coming athlete who trains with her father Matt under Trevor Height.

 “Ebony is doing a double degree at university and is learning to juggle training with the added study regime. I once tied for NSW Athlete of the Year with Matt Newton when I was 16 years old despite him being a decade older than me.  The following year was the first time they offered separate male/female categories for runner of the year,” recalled Ramona.

One highlight of Newcastle’s running achievements is Ramona’s victory in last year’s SYPAQ Lorraine Donnan Womens Handicap 400m. Ramona, reflecting on this win, sees it as a significant milestone. Recounting the emotional triumph, Ramona describes the profound sense of fulfilment and identity it gave her, likening it to a reclaiming of her cherished running career, following a serious accident during her career in the Police Force.

 “I now own a small piece of Stawell history, to have my name engraved on a trophy that also holds Cathy Freeman’s name is pretty special! It was a feeling of relief, a goal I’d had for more than half my life, to win a sash at Stawell. 

 “Not to mention counting every race as a bonus, being on borrowed time and winning such a prestigious race. I received so many kind and flattering messages from people all over the world saying how inspiring my story and achievement was to them.”

Ramona acknowledges the importance Bruce Gulliver has had on her athletics career. “Bruce is not only my coach but my mentor and he was the reason I believed enough in myself to ‘enter the arena once again’ as he puts it. 

 “The squad is an extended family to my son and I, having known Bruce, Damien and Matt since I was 7 years old. Their children have now joined that family and it is so enjoyable to see the tradition continue.”

 As Ramona prepares to make the trek south once again to Stawell, she reflects on how it’s become almost a ritual even if she might not be in the best shape physically this time around. While her preparations may have been minimal amidst a whirlwind European adventure, she remains steadfast in her commitment to inspire others through her athletic journey.

“My preparation for this year has been minimal at best. I was on such a high after Stawell, then I flew to Europe to experience travelling and racing overseas with my son Jack. We created many memories however I don’t think I have given myself enough down time to sufficiently rebound into this season.

“The work/mum/coaching/training life balance has been a tricky juggle, and I run better than I juggle.

“Overall I am just immensely proud of myself as an athlete, coach and mother and I hope to continue to inspire others to join the pro running circuit or join athletics in some capacity no matter their age or injury history.”

Looking forward to this year’s Stawell Gift, Ramona and her peers are focused on their preparations. 

“I fly in from Newcastle and hire a car and drive out to Stawell. I like to arrive on Thursday and settle in. I’ve been staying at the same motel for quite a few years, so it’s nice to return and catch up with the owners. I like to take a trip to Halls Gap, and of course we always enjoy the Monday night celebrations.”

As they head to Stawell, all the Newcastle athletes embody the spirit of competition and dedication and are ready to chase their dreams just like Ramona Casey.



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