It was the chance of a lifetime for Sophie Hallam-Eames.
So, of course, fate made the opportunity as difficult as possible for the senior thrower from the University of Colorado track and field team.
Earlier this month, Hallam-Eames sped halfway around the globe to participate in the New Zealand Track & Field Championships, which doubles as the country's Olympic Trials. The event would be her first true taste of competition at a national-team level and fulfill an immensely personal goal as well — though she grew up in Seattle, Hallam-Eames' father is from New Zealand and she traveled there frequently to visit family while growing up.
Yet once she arrived, a bout of food poisoning nearly ruined the entire endeavor before it ever began.
"It's a long flight, and then I got food poisoning at the hotel," Hallam-Eames said. "I called my coach (Casey Malone) asked if I should scratch or what I should do. He pretty much just said that I'd come all this way and I'm stronger than how I feel.
"The first day I had some great training sessions right before the meet. It was a really nice facility. Then the first day I was feeling pretty bad. Lucky for me discus was my first comp, and I can do a pretty decent partial throw. So I didn't do the full throw, because I was feeling a bit dizzy. But that was enough for me to get the placement I was looking for."
Though she felt far less than 100 percent, Hallam-Eames didn't let a sudden illness — or the 20-plus hours of travel to New Zealand from the end of the Pac-12 Conference indoor championships in Seattle — become the story of her Olympic Trails.
She finished third overall in the discus, recording her top mark of the series (139 feet, 3 inches) on her first attempt. Feeling slightly better for the hammer throw the following day, Hallam-Eames recorded another third-place finish with a toss of 173-0 on her fourth attempt.
"My main goal going into New Zealand was placement, and so I was very happy," Hallam-Eames said. "I definitely experienced a few setbacks associated with international travel. Just being able to compete at a national level gives me a new level of excitement and confidence going into the (outdoor) season. It was a powerful experience."
Given that she remains well short of the Olympic standard throws required to qualify, this year's Summer Games remain a long shot for Hallam-Eames. Yet beyond the pair of bronze medals she brought home, Hallam-Eames' first opportunity to compete in a national team uniform left an indelible impression.
"The first thing that was cool for me is that my parents are from two different countries," Hallam-Eames said. "To be able to represent the country my dad is from and reconnect with his family there ... and to put on a uniform that represents that heritage was really powerful for me. It made me feel really proud."
In CU's first outdoor meet of the season Friday, Hallam-Eames placed fourth in the hammer throw and fifth in the discus against Colorado State, Wyoming, and Northern Colorado at the Fum McGraw Quadrangular meet. Malone, CU's throws coach, expects the experience to push Hallam-Eames to greater distances during her final season with the Buffs this spring.
"For Sophie, that's one of the biggest things," Malone said. "She goes all the way down to New Zealand and you learn how to compete with all the challenges that are involved in that.
"All of those challenges are a phenomenal way for Sophie to kick off her senior season. When we saw this opportunity was going to come up, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for her not only in her career, but as a lifetime goal."