Jessica Stenson

Jessica Stenson


The past 12 months have been great for Jessica Stenson. A personal best in the Perth Marathon was followed by a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Her natural talent, strong work ethic and knowledge of the human body have combined for success on the track, while she’s also enjoying the triumphs of those she coaches in sport … and in life.

Information correct at the time of receiving the award

Like many country kids, Jessica Stenson grew up playing a range of sports, competing on sports days and in regional cross-country races, as well as learning piano and taking ballet lessons. After boarding in Adelaide in her final years of secondary school, Jess completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (as recommended by her mother) at the University of South Australia, which she chose over the opportunity to study interstate and follow her father into veterinary science.

With aspirations to play sport for South Australia, it became evident that Jess’s speed on the netball or basketball court was her biggest asset and at 21 she decided to focus on distance running. “Running allows you to objectively measure self-improvement really easily,” says Jess. “It’s something you can do anywhere in the world with minimal equipment. It has provided me with great friendships – which I think first got me hooked – and opportunities to travel and represent Australia.”

Jess’s early distance running career took off with victories in “fun” runs in Adelaide and Sydney, national cross-country championships and half marathons. She debuted at the 42-kilometre distance in the Japan Marathon in 2012, clocking a then Australian marathon debut record and securing a place on the Australian Olympic team for London.

Personal best times, Australian records and Commonwealth Games medals followed. Her current PB of 2 hours 25 minutes 15 seconds was set in Perth in 2021, her first marathon in two years after riding the challenges of competing during a pandemic and welcoming her son, Billy, with husband Dylan in 2019.

Always striving for self-improvement over accolades, Jess admits this year’s gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham felt pretty good. Most recently she tackled the notorious New York Marathon for the first time.

“If I need to qualify for an event, I’ll be looking at my watch to run specific splits to execute a very even race. Whereas going into a major championship you are racing against the people around you. You’ve got to be assessing the competition rather than looking at the clock.”

Far from seeing distance running as a solitary pursuit, Jess treasures the camaraderie and memories formed over many, many kilometres in preparation and years of competition. While she may listen to a podcast while training, during competition she manages to maintain focus but still lap up the atmosphere and observe the spectators – it was their cheers that let her know she was leading into the finish in Birmingham.

Keen to support others in the sport, Jess has been surprised by how much she is enjoying online coaching. Despite little face-to-face contact, she shares in the highs and lows of her runners. Under the guidance of her long-term coach Adam Didyk, she continues to train many nights a week with a team of 30-plus elite athletes. Despite support from her husband, family and coach, it remains a team effort to get Jess to the start line.

“The bigger and stronger the team, the more prepared you feel on race day,” says Jess. A sports doctor, physiotherapist, sports dietician, sports psychologist, exercise physiologist and massage therapist all contribute and Jess credits her knowledge of the human body with enabling her to better appreciate and respond to their input.

Outside of running, Jess is a guest speaker and mentor, sharing the lessons learned throughout her athletic career to support and encourage others as they tackle life’s challenges. It may have taken the nervous, nail-biting child a few years, but Jess is now confident that whatever happens on race day isn’t going to change her values and outlook on life. “I admire authenticity and people who demonstrate respect for others.”

Along with Dylan and brother Jack, Jess is building a business supplying sports underwear designed specifically for runners. She is also an ambassador for the Little Heroes Foundation, Jodi Lee Foundation and Raising Literacy Australia and when she finds time, she can still lose herself playing the piano or sketching.

In the future Jess hopes to use her own experience as an athlete and medical professional to help other female athletes find answers to the questions that arise during pregnancy and motherhood. For now, her physiotherapy practice is providing the flexibility to focus on parenting alongside training – she hopes to see continued improvement in her times over all distances from 10,000 metres to the marathon but is also keen to crack Lisa Ondieki’s State record from the 1988 Osaka Marathon of 2 hours 23 minutes and 51 seconds.

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