The last time we talked with discus thrower Valarie Allman, she broke the Women’s Discus American Record.
“In big meets, your body's overflowing with adrenaline," Allman said. "You feel like all of your nerves are kind of tingling. When I walk into the ring, I'm always trying to think about one or two really simple thoughts.”
This year she's competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Intense strength training, balanced nutrition, and maturity brought her to this moment.
“2020 ended up being a really impactful year," Allman said. "I mean, the pandemic provided a lot of hardship, but I think it also provided a lot of growth for me.”
She says beating the record helped build her confidence. A year of uncertainty transformed into a productive year which helped her reach the pinnacle of her athletic career.
“Having to be adaptable and adjust to so many unpredictable things, I think that that organically has been great training to prepare for the Olympics,” Allman said.
She says none of it would have happened without her coach, Zebulon Sion. He's been coaching Allman for five years.
Coach Sion says Allman stands out because of her dedication and discipline. She broke more discus records when qualifying for the Olympics.
“[I'm] super excited about it, yeah," Coach Sion said. "She's my first Olympian. We've been to world championships before two different times and competed against these very top people, but obviously, the Olympics has a different feel to it."
“It is going to be so funky to have an empty stadium," Allman said. "I mean, when I've dreamed about this moment, I've hoped that my family would be there. And now to know that it's just going to be thousands of empty seats is so strange. It's so strange. But in a lot of ways, I think it's simplified in my brain. It's just making it feel like another competition.”
Just another competition is exactly the mindset Coach Sion says he wants Allman to have.
“She needs to mentally think about everything the right way, you know, not make it too grand in her brain," Coach Sion said. "And keep it focused, keep it dialed in. The way we approach the training here all year is it doesn't change.”
Allman says she’s ready for the mental game even as the risk of contracting COVID hovers in the back of her mind.
“Wearing a mask, trying to be safe, and take precautions is vital at this point," Allman said. "You know, if you get a positive test, you're out from competing.”
The pandemic aside, years of hard work led to this point. Allman says it's humbling to know you don't need a state-of-the-art facility to really excel at something.
“It's so simple, you know, it's really just a concrete pad and a big open field that oftentimes other people have their dogs, and they're playing fetch,” Allman said.
Coach Sion laughs when talking about the field they've practiced on during the pandemic.
“We are hopeful that they mow the lawn and the grass is somewhat maintained, and we don't lose discs," Coach Sion said. "Which we have done, we've lost them in the weeds.”
Coach Sion says this place has some American-record magic. Maybe it has some Olympic magic too.
"But at the end of the day, it's not about winning," Coach Sion said. "It's not about what color the medal is. At the end of the day, it's about executing. And I think if she does that, we'll be really happy.”
Even though her family won't be at the games physically, Allman says she hopes to make them and her country proud.
"I mean, they’ve been a major part of this whole journey that they’ll absolutely be in my heart, and I can’t wait to get back to the U.S. after and see them and hopefully celebrate,” Allman said.