Albion Park Little Athletics duo preparing to take on the world in Tokyo
Jessica Hull has run in some of the most stunning places on the planet.
The mountains of Utah, the forests of Portland; Monaco, Berlin, Stockholm.
But there’s one place that feels special every time she laces up the shoes.
It’s where Hull spent her formative years, her dream of representing Australia established on the grass track.
It’s also where Jye Edwards spent much of his youth, the pair the latest Olympians to emerge from Albion Park Little Athletics Club.
Hull remembers those days fondly, the duo forming a unique bond that remains strong to this day.
“As a teenager when we were in little athletics he was a couple of age groups below me,” Hull said. “That meant we were pretty similar in our training and how fast we could run.
“We would beg the starter to combine our age groups so we could race each other. We go back a long way, so it has been incredible to watch him come up this year.”
Such is the link between the two families, their fathers have become close friends.
With Hull breaking into the elite ranks and Edwards doing his best to join her, Simon Hull and Derek Edwards forged a close bond.
“With Jess at the level she is and Jye making inroads and battling injuries for a while, Simon and I became quite close,” Derek said.
“We mostly talk about athletics. Not only our kids, but the sport in general, how people are going, how our kids are going, with Jye in Canberra and Jess overseas.
“We just catch up on athletics, it’s not just the fact they run similar distances but we like watching everything and just love the sport.”
Hull and Edwards have followed in the footsteps of former Australian record holder Ryan Gregson, the 31-year-old another Albion Park Little Athletics product.
For former president Pat McPhillips, it’s easy to tell which athletes can go places if they knuckle down.
But that doesn’t mean Edwards was a junior star, the runner a late developer.
“When I started, Jye wasn’t always winning races on our Friday night club meets,” McPhillips said.
“He wasn’t the earliest developer. Some boys grow faster than others and Jye wasn’t winning races when he was younger.
“One thing you could tell with him though was that he enjoyed running, and that came out in Jess as well.
“The other thing that stood out was that when he trained he could run himself into the ground. He didn’t need others around to push him, he could push himself and was very self-driven.”
Hull and Edwards are the latest in a long line of middle and long-distance runners to emerge from the Illawarra.
From the late Kerryn McCann to Gregson and Rio Olympian Madeline Heiner, multiple athletes have represented the region and their country at major international events.
Ian Hatfield has watched those athletes progress through the ranks, the Kembla Joggers coach involved in the sport for 40 years.
The mentor cites numerous factors for the Illawarra’s ability to produce stars.
“It’s the history and traditions of the region,” Hatfield said. “There’s also the support the schools give the kids along with the programs that have been developed.
“Illawarra Sports High produces so many champions and the Illawarra Academy of Sport has been very successful at developing young sports people.
“We’ve also got good facilities and good sporting organisations. The three councils over many years have been supportive of all sport. There are many organisations that have helped develop a culture and develop our athletes.”
Edwards and Hull will represent the Illawarra in Tokyo, and for many years to come.
Eventually the time will come for the next generation to step forward.
With a talented crop of youngsters presently toiling away, all agree the future is bright.
“Jye and Jess grew up seeing what Ryan Gregson was doing,” McPhillips said. “They knew what was possible.
“Now they’re older, they’ve been great at supporting the kids. When Jess was in Australia last year she’d be more than happy having 10 kids take off with her, even if they couldn’t keep up.
“The same goes for Jye when he was winning national titles, my son and other kids that were younger were able to train with him.
“There are some good kids coming through, kids winning state medals. I have no doubt there will be more, especially in those middle-distance events.”