Terang's Laurie Heffernan never liked drawing attention to himself despite racing barefooted.
But 50 years on from his special double victory in the one and two mile finals (1600m and 3200m) at the 1973 Stawell Gift, the former dairy farmer understands it gave him a certain distinction on the track, well known to many as the 'Terang barefoot runner'.
Heffernan, whose efforts in 1973 will be celebrated at the Terang Gift on Sunday, December 3, 2023, said he had attempted to find suitable footwear to no avail.
"Nothing suited me much and I used to run here (in Terang) and I could run in bare feet," he told The Standard this week.
"The shoes coming out...what they did was push my toes together and after a couple of laps I'd have a slight loss of feeling in my toes and I found if I ran in bare feet I had a bit more movement and felt more free.
"We did try spikes by chopping them off and making the back ones lower or higher.
"I remember getting out the wire cutters or hacksaw and cutting them off."
Heffernan, who also turns 75 on Sunday, believed there was more scope to run barefooted over long distances compared to sprint races.
"I was quite embarrassed to run in bare feet...I didn't want to draw attention to myself," he said
"But once you got running you didn't think about it.
"And I think it used to annoy people that you could beat them in bare feet and they had spikes on."
Heffernan remembers vividly the three days across the 1973 Stawell Gift meeting.
"Back then half of Terang was there, not much was on in 1973," he said with a laugh.
"A busload went up, particularly on Easter Monday.
"When I won on the Easter Monday, there was seven or 8000 people there and as I said, probably 500 Terang people were there which was incredible.
"I still run into people that say 'we were up there'."
With the event broadcast on ABC, it meant Heffernan's feats were well-known across the state.
After winning the one-mile on Easter Saturday, he returned home to Terang that night with wife Bernadette to a well-earned beer and numerous messages of congratulations.
"They had the TV crew up there...so they interviewed me afterwards," he said.
"There was no mobile phones back then, we got home on Saturday night and the phone was ringing, people from Melbourne, so I spent half the night on the phone.
"I celebrated Saturday night and hoped I didn't overdo it."
By Sunday morning Heffernan was out milking the cows.
"I just helped out, it got your mind off it a bit," he said.
Then it was back to Stawell on Easter Monday with the two-mile final sandwiched between the heats and final of the prestigious men's gift.
"Every man and his dog was there, it wasn't like you were at the last event of the day," Heffernan said.
"It was the first time in my life I signed autographs."
One memory Heffernan recalls from the race was the photo-finish that wasn't.
"There was a fellow, Tommy Burke, and I gave him about a 100m start and I passed him in the two mile and then I came up to him again believe it or not," Heffernan said.
"When I got near him, I was well in front and got him about the goals and then he ran all the way to the finishing line just beside me. I tried to outrun him but he'd run a lap-and-a-half less than me by that stage and had a bit in the tank.
"He got in the photo finish and when the Stawell photographer got it, he had to cut him out of it... so the photo is just me, it was this real narrow one.
"It was wild of him... I never forgave him."
Heffernan's wins earned him $600 a pop.
"I googled it, and it's about $5-$6000 now," he said.
"But (back then) you could buy a pie for 20 cents and a bottle of beer was 30 cents. A packet of cigarettes if you wanted them was only about 25 cents.
"You could buy a lot of stuff for $600."
His winnings took care of a pre-planned trip to Ireland the week following the gift - though with fanfare around his triumphs, it may have come at the wrong time.
"I travelled to Ireland and back - I've got cousins there - for $600," he said.
"I was a bit disappointed, I was having a wow of a time (in Terang)."
Returning to Stawell the next year, Heffernan said he clocked a six-second faster time off a tougher handicap than his two-mile win in 1973 - though could only manage third after two Tasmanians took out the first two places.
After starting in the 1960s, Heffernan's first running stint lasted around eight years with his most special victories coming at the two meccas of racing in Stawell and Bendigo.
"I've got to admit, I could have won a lot more races than I did," he said.
Coached by father Bill, Heffernan trained six nights a week alongside cousin John - an 800m specialist - in three easy sessions and three tougher ones.
"I still think if it doesn't hurt, you're not doing it properly," he said.
But it was after Bill's stroke in 1974 that Heffernan eventually lost interest in competing.
He returned to competition in his 40s, while nowadays, he gives back to the sport mentoring junior athletes every Wednesday night during terms one and four of the school year.
A passion for the Terang Athletics Club is evident, and Heffernan likes to play his part wherever he can - he and several others were out marking lines on Thursday ahead of the Terang Gift.
Heffernan, who has the 1600m open final at Terang named in his honour, credited the hard work of many behind the scenes in making the meeting a success.
This year's Terang Gift has attracted more than 400 entries across 11 races, including separate under 18 girls and boys' 120m events.
- The Terang Gift starts 11am, Sunday at Terang Recreation Reserve, with the women's final to start at 4.25pm, followed by the men's gift at 4.30pm.