Sometimes all it takes is a bowl of spaghetti for a top athlete to be born.
That is definitely the case for Valarie Allman, a 22-year-old American discus thrower whose craving for spaghetti helped introduce her to the sport.
"It's a weird and crazy story," the Stanford University student, who is visiting Taiwan to compete in the Taipei Universiade, told CNA in an interview on Sunday.
In middle school and early high school, Allman was into dancing. She did ballet and jazz, "but my love was hip-hop dancing," she said.
During her freshman year of high school, she was selected by choreographers of the U.S. dance competition show "So You Think You Can Dance" to join the traveling dance program "The Pulse on Tour."
She would go to school during weekdays and travel with the program to different cities on the weekends to perform, said the athlete from Longmont, Colorado.
At the same time, she wanted to be more involved in school activities to feel like she was a part of the school community, so she joined her high school's track and field team, Allman said.
"I started jumping and running, and I was OK at best," she said.
"And then one day, the (discus) throwers were getting ready to have their annual spaghetti dinner, and they said that anybody who came and practice that day could come to the dinner," Allman said.
"And I love spaghetti. Love spaghetti. It's one of my favorite foods. So I went and tried it and just kind of found that I had a weird knack for throwing discus," she said with a laugh.
Of course, she said, she also went to the dinner that night and "even loved it more."
"Then after that I was like, 'yeah, I want to keep trying this.' It turned into one of my biggest passions," Allman said.
After delving into the sport, she said, she realized that there were many things that she carried over from dance to discus throwing, such as coordination and balance, which are important in both disciplines.
Allman finished third in the women's discus throw at the USA Track and Field Championships in June, giving her a spot on the U.S. national team at August's IAAF World Championships in London, though she did not make the final 12 in the event.
She had previously won the silver medal at the 2014 World Junior Championships, and she finished 6th in the women's discus throw at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016.
As for her goal at the Taipei Universiade, Allman, who also competed in the 2015 Gwangju Universiade, said the event is a great opportunity to make friends and learn about different cultures.
"I think the goal is just to be able to learn about the Taiwanese culture and become immersed in the environment, as well as help bring out the competitive spirit of the games," she said.
"I always love when as an athlete you can bring out the best in people," she said.
But of course, she also hopes to take home a medal.
"I think it's hard wired inside me to want to be competitive, so I'll definitely be trying to be on the podium."
Allman took a positive step in that direction on Wednesday when she qualified for Thursday's women's discus final with a throw of 58.33 meters, the best throw of the qualifying round.
Allman, who studies product design at Stanford and is passionate about non-profit work, said that after her athletic career comes to an end, she would like to work for a big tech company or start a social entrepreneurship business that is focused on helping communities.
"Doing non-profit social work has always been something that's been taking a big piece of my heart," Allman said.
She said she hopes to use her expertise in product design to impact the non-profit sector and design goods for low-income communities.
For the time being, though, Allman is focused on spinning the discus, even if the fringe benefits aren't what they were in the past. Asked if she still has annual spaghetti dinners these days, she laughed and said not anymore, but "I make sure to eat it before the meets."
Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council