Family memories as race honours a lost champion

The Age

Friday October 9, 2009


KERRYN McCann described it as the greatest race she ever ran. It remains the way most Australians remember her victorious on the MCG after the 2006 Commonwealth Games marathon with young son Benton by her side for a lap of honour.On Sunday many of those memories will be reprised at the Melbourne Marathon, the nation's largest.McCann, 41, died from cancer in December. On Sunday, Benton, 12, will fire the starter's pistol to set the 22,000-strong field running. A few hours later, the Wollongong schoolboy will return to the race finish at the MCG to present the trophy named for the first time this year in his mother's honour to the first Australian woman across the line.Jenny Gillard sister and former training partner of McCann hopes to be that woman. "I feel like I am doing this one for her," the 38-year-old said. "It's completely different to how I normally feel in marathons. Emotional for sure, it's a happy and also a sad feeling and occasion. I feel like I am running for her."The two sisters trained together for years and it is mostly when she hits the road that Gillard is able to feel McCann by her side once again."When I'm running I feel close to her," she said. "It was she who got me into running and started me off. Every time I am running I think of her. It has helped me, I think. I've just thrown myself into running since it happened."Gillard only started running in her mid 20s, after asking her sister to devise a jogging program for her in an attempt to get fit. By 2006 she was the national marathon champion in the same year her sister won Commonwealth gold.Now 38, she is in a similar position to McCann before that famous MCG victory. For two years she has not run, taking a break to give birth to her second child, a daughter she named Lola Kerryn.On Sunday, Gillard has a good chance of winning. "I'm training as well as I was when I ran that time," she said. "My biggest problem is that I haven't run a marathon for two years."Benton will be barracking for her. He is a quiet boy but is excited about the honour bestowed upon his family."It's pretty exciting," he said. "I remember last time at the Commonwealth Games. I watched my Mum finish and then we did a lap together. It felt good. I was proud of her."On Sunday it will all come flooding back. But he knows it is a special honour that his family is receiving. "It makes me proud," he said. "I hope Jen wins."She hopes so, too. "To have the trophy myself, just for the fact of what Kerryn did on the MCG I'd like to make my own history and do it for her . . . There's a few of us all around the same time so it will just be about who wants it more badly. I know that's me."

© 2009 The Age

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