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March 3, 2024

Ballina’s race walking champion honoured

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Then and now… Kerry Saxby-Junna AM with her parents (and Ballina Shire Senior Citizens for 2020) Barry and Jan Saxby with the new signage in Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

Kerry Saxby-Junna returned to her old home of Ballina on Friday for the unveiling of a new tribute and tourist attraction in her honour.

An enthusiastic crowd of friends, family and supporters were there for the unveiling by Mayor David Wright of the new interpretive signage display, beside the Richmond River, near the Ballina War Memorial Pool.

The new aluminium display is over two metres high and details Ms Saxby-Junna’s extraordinary athletic achievements, which include 32 world records, three Olympics and 27 national titles.

The podium is made from sandstone, and will provide a great photo opportunity and rest location for people using the re-vamped Kerry Saxby Walkway, which now goes all the way from Captain Cook Park to the end of North Wall. The total length is close to the 5 km distance for which Kerry Saxby-Junna held the race walking world record for almost two decades.

Ballina Mayor David Wright speaks at the opening ceremony. Photo David Lowe.

Mayor David Wright said the new signage aimed to inspire both the local community and visitors.

‘It acknowledges Kerry’s outstanding contribution to international athletics and her important connection to Ballina,’ he said.

Although Ms Saxby-Junna was born in Young NSW, her family moved to Ballina in her early teens.

Describing herself as a ‘normal country girl’, Kerry joined the local athletics club and achieved state level success in swimming and middle distance running before switching to race walking at 21.

Opening delayed

Kerry Saxby-Junna told Echonetdaily she’d planned to return for the opening in July 2020, but COVID caused the ceremony to be delayed. ‘It’s always great to come back to Ballina, especially at the moment when we can go swimming, and the weather’s good.

Kerry Saxby-Junna AM on the podium with her younger self. Photo David Lowe.

‘My dream of going to the Olympics all started here,’ she said. ‘In those days Ballina never had the walking paths, but now we’re getting more and more coming through, which is fabulous.

‘This has to be one of the most picturesesque places I’ve seen around the world to go for a walk.’

When she and her sister did training runs out to the bar in the early days, it was ‘a very very rough track’.

After Ms Saxby-Junna was invited to go to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra by coach Craig Hilliard, she won multiple gold medals for race walking. She also met her husband, soccer coach Ray Junna, at the AIS.

Ms Saxby-Junna won her first international gold medal at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow.

She was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1992.

On Friday she told Echonetdaily she’s happy that people remember her career on the track, although ‘it’s just so long ago!

Life after competition

Ms Saxby-Junna retired from race walking in 2001. These days, she lives in Canberra, where she works with kids who have disabilities. She still enjoys running, walking and riding her bike.

To attend the Ballina ceremony, she drove all the way north with her husband, and was struck by the improvements along the highway. ‘There’s only a couple of traffic lights between here and Canberra at the moment. It’s like a super highway now! I reckon there’ll be more and more people moving here, it’s so easy to get anywhere now.’

Crowd at the opening on Friday. Photo David Lowe.

Mayor Wright described Kerry Saxby-Junna as one of Ballina’s legends.

He also acknowledged Jim Pike for putting forward the suggestion to acknowledge her achievements.

‘I encourage everyone to enjoy the Kerry Saxby Walkway and take the time to stop, read and reflect when they see this sign – it’s certain to inspire,’ said Mayor Wright.

There’s more information about the walkway and the rest of the Ballina Shire pathway network at discoverballina.com.au.

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