GRACE O’Dwyer has achieved what her father has chased for almost 30 years – a Stawell Gift sash in a marquee race.
The 15-year-old has staked her place in the iconic Easter event’s history as the first female to win the Stawell Women’s Gift on equal prize footing with the men.
And her immediate reaction was “no idea” when asked what she would do with $40,000.
Victory means more than the money.
Her father and coach Peter O’Dwyer, a multiple Stawell finalist, reached the semi-finals 28 years after racing his first Stawell Gift.
He was so proud.
Peter O’Dwyer trained 2012 Stawell Gift winner Matt Wiltshire and last year’s Women’s Gift winner Holly Dobbyn. Wiltshire and Dobbyn were both emotional amid shocked and jubilant POD Squad celebrations.
Grace O’Dwyer thanked her dad for everything he had done when accepting her sash and kept looking to her mum Barb and sister Kathryn in near disbelief.
O’Dwyer arrived at Central Park a pre-race favourite, reinforced with a clear heat win, and told The Courier on Saturday she had blocked out the hype.
She advanced to the semi-finals as one of two fastest qualifiers.
O’Dwyer had been building to this moment all season in the Victorian Athletic League.
A consistent finalist and place-getter, including Ballarat’s Women’s Gift, this was O’Dwyer’s stunning breakthrough win.
“I’ve done everything right, every step of the way,” she said.
“I did everything to prepare for this.
“I re-composed myself after the semi and gave all I had got in the final.”
O’Dwyer raced off the 10.25-metre mark and hunted down Caitlin Hawks (12m), Keely Henderson (13.75m) and runner-up Anna Pasquali (14m), while holding off Sarah Blizzard (9.5m) and Lynette Viney (9.75m).
She clocked a winning time of 13.40 seconds.
Queenslander Murray Goodwin (6.5m) won the Stawell Gift feature race in 12.10 seconds.
Goodwin was the sole semi-final winner to immediately pull on warm fleece clothes after his win – already preparing for his big job ahead.