Hayley Orman celebrates after winning the 2021 Women's Stawell Gift. Image: Supplied

Now aiming to go back-to-back in 2022, Hayley Orman spoke to The Inner Sanctum about her 2021 Women's Stawell Gift victory.

‘Never ask me to throw a ball’, Hayley Orman says. 

She jokes that she’s nicknamed ‘The Moose’, a lack of agility to thank for the moniker.

But it’s not something that matters too much – it’s clear she was born a runner. 

I think my passion for running came naturally,” Hayley told The Inner Sanctum.

“I was always that kid that did every sport, but I was pretty sure the only reason I was picked for those teams was because I could run fast to the ball.

“My parents got to the point where they were running me around to so many different sports that they tried to steer me into picking one… and I ended up picking running.”

Hayley’s father Trevor reflects similarly on her running success as a child.

Beginning at South Australia’s Southern Hills Little Athletics club when Hayley was just six years old, Trevor says there are some traits she has carried through her career on the track.

‘She often came up against ‘early developers’ who were bigger and stronger than her,’ he told The Inner Sanctum.

‘She always had to work harder than others to be competitive.’

Fast-forward to 2019, and Hayley finished third at the Bay Sheffield – a result that kindled her desire to add to her trophy cabinet by winning a Stawell Gift

“To win a Bay is something you can only dream of,” She said.

“I think for me, it became a reality and something I can do, rather than just being a fairytale, so that was the drive.”

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It was meant to be a short turnaround – from December to April – before Hayley would compete in the Stawell Gift, but COVID-19 put a stop to any hopes of the event even taking place.

It was a difficult time for her, given the energy and effort she had put into preparing for the race.

“In the back of your mind, you’re like ‘why am I bothering putting myself through this when it’s something that may not happen?’” She said.

“There’s so much time and effort and emotional involvement in it that was exceptionally tough.

“It was a pretty strange and upsetting time as an athlete.”

With the world pausing due to the pandemic, Hayley recalls the abnormality of the situation, particularly from the perspective of being unable to capitalise on the training she had done in preparation for the Stawell Gift.

“Having to sit at home, and being in such good shape, it kind of dwindles away,” she said.

“Being in peak physical condition and not knowing what to do with it… It’s quite hard to deal with at the time.”

Fortunately, however, she was able to continue working her day job as an Affineur, being an essential worker, throughout the lockdown stages of 2020.

When it came to training, though, she remembers it being a tricky experience, which required a lot of adaptation on her part, to be able to make do with what was available. 

Living in a share house at the time, Hayley recounted the lengths to which she went to train while her regular schedule was impacted.

“My coach at the time was super passionate, we did outside gym sessions and lots of sand dunes,” she said.

“I grabbed the last resistance band from Rebel Sport and stole a few medicine balls from my coach as well.

“I sort of tried to head down to the park and do the best I could, but it was exceptionally tough.”

Recalling the lead-up to the Bay Sheffield in 2020, she reflected fondly on the winter training season, able to scale new heights by reaching faster times than she ever had before.

But it was brought to a halt when she suffered a partially torn quad in September, a few months out from the Bay Sheffield in December. 

Yet despite the tear, she continued, ‘juggling’ the injury while still being able to train, but soon after, she was struck down by achilles tendonitis, which caused some further injury issues as the Bay Sheffield drew closer.

Hayley and her coaches were ‘leaving it down to the wire’, trying to reach the race quantity qualification for the Bay Sheffield, but eventually, they realised it wasn’t to be.

“I just remember this one training session, I was on quite a lot of anti-inflammatories to try and settle it and try and get through a session,” She said.

“I was in so much pain… [My coach and I said] we’ll let the body go through what it needs to go through, and then we’ll re-assess and come back.”

Despite this, and having a few weeks off training to let the injury recover, it was still an incredibly tough time for her, having missed out on the event she was hoping to win, a year after she’d finished third there. 

“The last day or two, at the ‘Bay Sheff’, I was just in the toilets bawling my eyes out,” she said.

“Having to watch that moment where I had made the podium last year, and the goal was to win it this year, that was quite tough.”

Returning from her injury, Hayley was knocked out swiftly in a smaller tournament in South Australia, and despite it being a bit of a ‘confidence-killer’, she soldiered on.

A surprise win at the Maribyrnong Gift in Victoria, her second race back, was a huge confidence boost, however, which kick-started her preparation for the Stawell Gift in 2021.

It handed her a three-quarter metre lift for the Stawell Gift, and as a result, Hayley and her coach undertook an intense, cardio-heavy training program for eight weeks, the ‘eight-week shred’. 

Outside the gym work, she focused on her 120-metre running but didn’t run any 120-metre races, in order to preserve the lift that she’d won. 

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Going into the weekend of the Stawell Gift, Trevor said a meeting with Hayley’s coach a few weeks prior had discussed that she was one of the favourites to win, due to her win at Maribyrnong. 

He said the approach was simple – all Hayley needed to do was run 13.80 seconds three times, and she would win.

Hayley’s approach to the race was very relaxed, treating it as ‘just another race’, and despite not realising the stresses going on outside her personal bubble, enjoyed the experience for what it was.

“[My coach] hadn’t slept or eaten in 4 days, that’s how nervous he was, but he didn’t show that to me at all,” she said. 

“I just enjoyed being in the moment, but also treating it as just another race… that helped deal with the pressure of the situation.

“It was such a beautiful environment to be around, such a gorgeous track.”

Trevor was another to recall his nerves about the situation.

“I must admit there were a few sleepless nights… especially the Sunday night prior to the semi-final and final,” he said. 

“That night I think I slept for about two hours looking for ways in which she might not win it, but after her heat, the numbers said that she should.”

And they certainly did – in the Saturday heat, with the goal of running a 13.80, Hayley ran a 13.82, finishing comfortably ahead of her heat. 

The semi-final saw Hayley top her race again, Running a 13.91 and again finishing first in her group. 

Going into the semi-final and final on Sunday, though, Hayley said she was thankful for the short turnaround between the races. 

“I wasn’t nervous, which was quite strange, because I do tend to get exceptionally anxious,” she said.

“It was nice that it was such a quick turnaround from the semi to the final, that’s always a really big bonus.”

And she made the most of the bonus.

Hayley backed up her performances in the heat and the semi-final, adding a 13.88 in the final and holding off what was, of course, some close competition. 

With just 0.099 seconds between Hayley and fourth place – and 0.197 seconds between her and sixth – Trevor’s reflections on the race were accurate.

“I had one moment during the final where because of the angle we were watching from, I thought they had got to her,” he said.

“But she found another gear and held them off – mind blown!”

And as for his reflections on the day as a whole, Trevor’s thoughts were simple but sweet – “best day ever!”

Hayley Orman and father Trevor celebrate after her Stawell Gift win. Image: Supplied

Hayley’s reflection of the race was in the way she handled the pressure of reaching the final.

“It’s one thing I’m super happy with, that I didn’t let the nerves get to me,” she said.

“You can tell the pressure just gets to certain athletes.

“I just kept my cool and stayed relaxed and I definitely think that was part of the winning factor.”

As Hayley takes to the field in Monday’s semi-finals, with an eye on going back-to-back, her words after winning the final in 2020 are every indication she’s got what it takes to back her title up. 

“It’s pretty intense to think [that] you’ve achieved the greatest accolade of the thing that you do,” she said.

“I’ve improved so much in that 4 months that I don’t see why I can’t come back and defend my title again. 

“I’ve always thought that if I ever would win a Stawell, that would be the cue for me to give it up, but I just can’t do that.”

Hayley Orman celebrates her Stawell Gift win with the trophy. Image: Supplied

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