Tori Peeters has set no less than three national javelin record during a memorable domestic campaign. However, as the Dunedin-based thrower tells Steve Landells it has not been a trouble-free road.
Perhaps few best encapsulate the rollercoaster ride of an athlete than the journey undertaken by New Zealand javelin record holder Tori Peeters.
A little over two years ago the Southland-raised spear ace set a national record of 55.14m in Melbourne and later in 2015 she finished a respectively sixth on her global championship debut at the World University Games in Gwangju. She appeared to be riding the crest of a wave until injury - that scourge of every athlete - reared its unwelcome head in 2016.
Yet after a period of self-reflection, Tori has returned with a bang - although not without the occasional hiccup - to twice better her New Zealand record at the recent Australian Championships.
A wiser more nature athlete - Tori who only celebrates her 23rd birthday next month - can look ahead to the future with justified optimism and is looking forward to a second crack at the World University Games in August.
It was at the 2015 edition of the biennial student multi-sport competition when Tori made her debut on the global stage and passed her first major examination with a big tick.
"I didn't realise until I got there, the scale of the event and the calibre of the competition, she admits of the 2015 World University Games. "Being in South Korea had its challenges, it was a completely different environment. But I was really happy with how I performed.
"We were unable to warm up with a javelin, which made it difficult," she explains. "I ended up warming up with a drink bottle. It was quite funny. Here was I, this little old Kiwi, making do with a water bottle while the Europeans were having a go at everyone because they had no javelin to warm up with!"
Tori performed with aplomb in Gwangju. She hurled the spear out to a best of 55m exactly - within just 14cm of her national record - for sixth. The performance fuelled a desire to return to the Games and win a medal.
Yet every athletics journey has its setbacks and shortly after the 2015 World University Games, Tori started to experience back pain. Notoriously stubborn, the Dunedin-based part-time PE student choses to ignore the problem until she finally sought a scan when she could no longer even turn over in bed without feeling a sharp pain. In February lasts year, the scan revealed stress fractures in the lower back. It was a huge blow.
"I had to call time on my season and this was tough mentally," she adds. "I knew how strong I was and I was determined to come out and perform. "
Yet it is often in our low points when we learn the most and Tori and her support team - led by coach Raylene Bates - chose to suck the positives out of a challenging situation.
In the preceding months to the injury diagnosis. Tori has rapidly gained strength but her body was simply unable to cope with the additional training load. The injury gave the opportunity for the South Island javelinist to strip back her technique and work on any weak points. She was given a series of drills to perform to build glute strength. Every day for six month she diligently completed 100 reps every day of the drills. She was doggedly determined to return a physically less fragile athlete.
A little over two months after the diagnosis she was given the green light to throw once more.
"I was allowed just three throws, but I was ecstatic," she recalls. "From that day on we slowly built up the number of throws, although if I ever wanted to take more throws in a session, Raylene would wisely hold me back."
She made her long-awaited return to competition late last year and recalls feeling "very nervous" as she once again entered the competitive fray. Fearing she would once more feel back pain proved a tricky hurdle to overcome, but she showed glimpses of a return to form with a 53.19m effort in Dunedin last October.
Yet It would take a change of scene and the highly-charged and innovative Nitro Series in Melbourne bring the best out of the determined Kiwi.
"Nitro was unbelievable," she recalls. "The atmosphere was incredible - it felt like I was in a night club. There were so many positive vibes. Music blasted from a stage with a DJ and dancers, there was so much going on. I was competing against some of the top athletes in the world, there was great interaction with the crowd. I've never had so much fun in a competition. Most competition rules are so strict but in Nitro if I wanted to dance on the stage between throws I could."
The javelin competition also introduced an intriguing target element to the event - and although Tori could not quite deliver on this front - in a traditional sense she delivered chucking the spear out to a new PB and national record of 55.73m to place second in a rousing final night of action in the Nitro Series at Lakeside Stadium.
"I had a really good feeling going into Nitro," explains Tori. "I also benefited from being around some top-class athletes and I received some great advice from Kara Winger (a three-time Olympian and former US champion) and Kathryn Mitchell (the Australian and sixth-place finisher at the Rio Olympics), which also helped."
Yet athletics is never so straight forward. Leading into the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hamilton, Tori struggled with a niggle in her neck. Her confidence levels dipped and the three-time national senior champion was defeated by Madeleine Chapman, who unleashed a 50.98m to clinch gold by just 16cm from a below-par Tori.
"It was tough to be beaten, but Madeline produced a good throw," explains Tori. "Looking back I learned a lot from this and the few weeks leading up to nationals."
The Otago University student, who also works part-time as a gym receptionist, re-gathered her thoughts ahead of the Australian Championships. A demanding competitive schedule had left her fatigued and she also worked on building and improving her mental state.
Tori emerged in Sydney just two weeks later a fresher, more focused and confident than the athlete who performed well short of her best at Porritt Stadium.
A first round throw of 54.70m set up the Athletics Taieri athlete for a great competition. Then with her third round effort, she launched the javelin out to a new national record of 56.50m - it was a huge breakthrough moment.
"It was an awesome feeling," she adds. "Long throws tend to feel effortless, but I knew they were a couple of things that weren't quite right technically, so I knew I had more in me."
Her instinct proved prescient. In round five she once again bettered her New Zealand record with a 56.74m throw as she wound up second behind Australia's Commonwealth bronze medallist Kelsey-Lee Roberts
"To be consistently over 50m built confidence, but I was really stoked to throw over 55m because it had been a bit of a mental block," she admits.
Tori now plans a sustained period training out of Dunedin with her training group, which includes Paralympic javelin silver medallist Holly Robinson, before returning to the competitive environment in June for a stint living in Queensland.
She hopes this will provide the perfect preparation for the World University Games in Taipei City, Taiwan in August, where she is looking to improve upon her sixth-place finish two years ago.
"I think I have the potential to throw at lasts 2m further and I really want to get on the podium (at World University Games)," she adds. "That would be the main goal."
Beyond that the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games is another target but the sport has already taught her not to look too far ahead.
"I've matured a lot as an athlete I don't become so fixated on outcomes. I'm smarter about working through the processes. I always thought I knew about the bigger picture but I've realised the sport is all about taking small steps along the way."
After a rollercoaster past couple of years no athlete knows that better than Tori Peeters.