It’s taken four years, including 12 months recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and a lot of self-doubt for Naomi Hunter to finally achieve her maiden cross country win last Saturday.
Hunter’s gutsy effort in the five-kilometre Stephen Baird Handicap completed an unprecedented hat-trick of wins for Stawell Amateur Athletic club rookies in the past three weeks.
“Oh my God, this can’t be happening,” Hunter said within sight of the finish after withstanding a late challenge from runner-up, Luke Baker, who finished just eight seconds in arrears.
Naomi’s husband, David, also on the comeback trail after injury, was third.
“I know you’re not supposed to look behind in a race,” Hunter said, “but I could see Luke coming and I thought, if I can sprint as hard as I can I might just win this.”
Hunter, who has raced just 16 times, failing to finish twice from a possible 44 races since 2015, missed the entire 2017 season after a surgical procedure to repair her Achilles.
She is a monument to perseverance having previously retired from team sports after a knee and ankle reconstructions.
“I have never thought about winning before and can’t believe that I have. I only ever think about making it to the finish line.”
Unwilling to risk strenuous long distance running, speed work or treadmill to improve her fitness, Hunter has taken to the gym and credits that for improving her strength and stamina.
In the sub-junior one kilometre event, Colten Kenny jumped for joy when announced as the winner on handicap from determined chasers Olivia Hunter and Kayla Membrey.
The club combines with the Stawell and Ararat Cross Country Club this Saturday for the eight-kilometre Lindsay Kent Memorial Handicap.
Fun runners are welcome and should meet at the Pipetrack Road car park behind Stawell’s airport for a 10am start.