Discus world junior silver medallist Valarie Allman only found her calling in track and field through gut instinct – literally. SPIKES caught up with the 19-year-old after hearing she has even more in her locker than slinging the discus to incredible distances.
Just like figure skating hammer thrower Sultana Frizell, Allman first displayed her athleticism not in the discus circle, but on the dance floor. She spent a year touring the US as part of the TV show So You Think You Can Dance?’s Pulse Prodigy series when she was younger.
“I got to travel around the country with them for a year and work on my dancing skills and what not,” she tells us.
“It got to the point where they were really encouraging me to become homeschooled and move to LA and pursue dancing. But I really wanted to be involved in high school. I didn’t feel like I was quite ready to do it.”
Although she still enjoyed dancing at high school, it wasn’t to the same level that it had been during her days on tour. So Allman decided that track was a good way of staying active.
“The track coach was one of the only people that said ‘just come whenever you can, I understand you’ve got other commitments, it’s totally cool’,” she explains.
A sympathetic coach was probably a good thing for her. At this stage, she hadn’t yet discovered her gift, and could have easily been pushed away from the sport by a more authoritative figure.
Fortunately she wasn’t, and with the help of an alluring spaghetti dinner – just like mama used to make – she chanced upon the discus.
In fact, Allman, who lists one of her hobbies as cooking, says spaghetti and meatballs is one of her signature dishes. “I should have known that was the first sign: I was enticed by food to be a better thrower,” she laughs.
“I was jumping and sprinting one day when the throwers were getting ready to have their annual spaghetti dinner.
“They said ‘anybody who comes to practice today can come to our dinner’. So I went down to practice, started throwing and found that I had a weird knack for it.”
From dancing to discus - "I point my toes going into the middle of the circle"
But it wasn’t until an encounter with a prairie dog that she realised just how potent that knack was.
“At my high school, in Longmont Colorado, we had a pretty low-key discus area, just like an open field.
“There was this prairie dog hole that by some freak accident of nature was at exactly 40 metres. When I first started throwing my coach joked: ‘OK we got to hit that prairie dog hole – 132 ft that’s what we’re going for!’
“Then one day I swear this prairie dog was just mocking me. It was popping out of its hole and running across the field. I threw the discus and it bounced right next to the hole, though it didn’t hit the prairie dog thankfully.
“My coach and I just looked at each other. We were like ‘that didn’t just happen’.
“That was the spark. Throwing that distance gave me a lot of motivation and I realised I wanted to be more competitive.”
She carried that motivation into college. And not just any old college, Allman is one of the lucky few to study at Stanford, whose stringent intake sees just 2,000 students admitted out of 39,000 applicants.
Academia turns out to be another of Allman’s talents. She has just finished her first year at her alma mater where she studies science – amongst other things. Intelligent, engaging, driven, and now a world junior medallist, Allman must be quite the figure on campus.
At Stanford she is also involved with an organisation called EPATT (East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring). They run afterschool sports coaching clubs with children from less affluent areas.
“I love working with that,” she says. “I’d love to get into corporate social responsibility and work with big companies to help with their outreach sector.”
Where does she find the time?
And although college has got her looking to the future, some of her past still shines through in her throwing.
“A lot of people say they can see the dancer resemblance in my throw,” she says. “I think the kinesthetic awareness and the balance of it all from the dancer background helped a lot.
“But it also does kinda drive my coach crazy – sometimes I point my toes going into the middle of the circle!”
She had to settle for silver in Oregon, now she's on the hunt for gold
Stanford has provided Allman with a coach and an environment that she believes has been crucial in nurturing her talent and leading to success at the world juniors.
“In high school I had a couple of big throws but not the consistency. My coach at college [Michelle Eisenreich] took the fundamentals that I had and worked on those.
“It’s definitely cool at Stanford. They appreciate the athletic part of it, but I feel like there’s so much more than what happens on the track. They look at what you do in the classroom as well. That’s something really cool and unique in college athletics.
“We set up a really strong programme which was something new to me, really focusing on the total package.”
And that total package nearly saw her bring home a golden nugget. She had briefly held the lead in Oregon, only for it to be wrestled from her by Brazilian Izabela Da Silva’s world junior leading effort of 58.03m.
But there are no hard feelings for Allman. “She [Da Silva] threw at her best. There’s nothing more you can ask for in a competition.
“As much as I would have liked to be able to win, there’s something cool about being in the hunt for it and feeling those emotions. It’s something I’m never gonna forget.”