THIS was always more than a battle of the sexes story when Australia's fastest female set foot on Central Park.
This was always a lesson in striving to be better. A lesson in equality we could take far beyond the Stawell Gift, or athletics, or sport.
Canberra-based Melissa Breen retired ahead of what on Friday would have been the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
It is easy to rue what is lost on our sporting grounds this year - even though there is hope the Olympics will play out same time, same place next year.
Breen would have been vying for a third Olympic berth. The 29-year-old told The Canberra Times it was the right time after the constant race to secure her place, the chase for funding and injuries to overcome.
It is easy to rue what might have been for Breen with one more year, but it is a timely reminder of the legacy she made in western Victoria to never give up.
Easter 2011, Breen lined up as the fifth women in history to line up in the Stawell Gift field.
Breen vowed she would bide her time, train smarter and return stronger before stepping up again. One year later Breen won the Stawell Women's Gift from scratch.
When there were those who would say women could never measure up in a male arena, Breen would let her race do the talking. By what measure?
Breen was back in the Stawell Gift field by 2014, clear in her intentions to earn a semi-final spot in the wake of breaking a 20-year Australian 100-metre record with a run of 11.11 seconds.
She told The Courier at the time, the push for a semi was not about proving naysayers wrong, it was about proving right to her supporters and to herself. Breen was about pushing the limit to what was possible.
The heat run was narrowly short of a semi but it launched Breen into an outspoken lead role for parity in Australia's richest footrace. The next year this was realised.
Ballarat's Grace O'Dwyer became the first to capture the Stawell Women Gift sash with an equal $40,000 winner's prize to the men.
Parity has stepped up the women's competition for Easter Monday. More money on the line lures more highly-decorated athletes which, like any sport, lifts the whole standard of the field.
Parity has crucially demanded the Women's Gift, and the athletes who enter, be taken seriously. These were athletes who train with their male counterparts, who do the same work but who were not valued the same as their male counterparts on a national stage until Easter Monday 2015.
Interestingly, when The Canberra Times asks Breen her favourite sprint memory after a decade travelling the world, it was not an Olympic Games. It was not becoming the fastest women in Australian athletics history.
It was winning a gift in Albury, 2014, off minus 0.5 metres for her grandfather.
The incredible thing about handicap racing is no matter how far back you start in the chase or how many rivals behind you need to fend off, it is ultimately about striving to be your best. Breen leaves us that lesson from Stawell.
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