From the moment Michelle Payne crossed the finish line of the 2015 Melbourne Cup aboard Prince of Penzance, Australia rose to salute the first female jockey to win the race that stops the nation.
And when Michelle told the doubters to “get stuffed” in her post-race interviews – a nation cheered.
And whilst all the nominees produced incredible feats, becoming the first female jockey in the Melbourne Cup’s 155-year history to win the race was judged first past the post in most inspiring a nation and with it the 2016 ‘The Don’ Award.
Payne said it was an “incredible honour, unbelievable really” to win the award adding that everything that’s taken place since she crossed the line on the first Tuesday in November has been amazing.
“I could never have believed everything that has happened since the race, absolutely not in my wildest dreams. It was very much a life changing race,” Payne said
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, with a heavy race fall in Mildura in May providing a significant reality check and the “toughest challenge of her life”.
“It’s definitely changed my views on life since winning the Melbourne Cup and then going through what I did with the fall.”
“I’ve always been grateful for any luck I’ve had but I think now, more than ever, I am just happy to be healthy and doing what I love. Anything from now is a bonus.”
In a sport renowned for its male dominance, Payne overcame numerous barriers to become a leading jockey and with it a role model for females within the racing fraternity and the broader community. Her brother Steven, who has Down syndrome, was the strapper and played a big role in Prince of Penzance’s preparation for the race. Together they touched the hearts of all Australians.
Payne said Stevie, who shared the winning moment on Cup day and during the recent AFL Grand Final parade, continues to enjoy the experiences that winning the Melbourne Cup has provided.
“Stevie is happy whatever happens. He has handled the change to his life well.”
Named after the inaugural Legend elevated in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame – Sir Donald Bradman AC – ‘The Don’ Award is regarded as the highest individual honour that can be bestowed on a current Australian athlete, and is awarded to a sportsperson who, through their achievements and example over the last 12 months, is considered to have most inspired the nation.
Former winners of the award which commenced in 1998 include last year’s winner Jason Day, Sally Pearson (2014, 2012), Adam Scott (2013) Cadel Evans OAM (2011), Lydia Lassila OAM (2010), Steve Hooker (2008, 2009), Matthew Mitcham OAM (2009), Glenn McGrath AM, Shane Warne (2007), Alisa Camplin (2002), Cathy Freeman OAM (2000) and Ian Thorpe AM in 1999.