Hong Kong will lose one of its most talented junior athletes in August, but that could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Mary Hui Kam-man has been at the forefront of junior women's athletics for the past two years, but in eight weeks she will leave for a four-year degree course at Princeton in the United States, where she will join the university's track and field team.
Hui sees this as the first step to improving as an athlete, and if everything goes according to plan, she hopes to emulate some of the athletic achievements that Maggie Chan Man-yee accomplished after she moved to the US 17 years ago and hurdler Chan Sau-ying before her.
Princeton was Hui's first choice of university, although she also considered the London School of Economics and Loughborough University, also in the UK, among others. "My studies will take priority over athletics ... [but] I was determined to choose a university with a strong sporting background," said the 19-year-old Happy Valley resident.
"I had to wade through loads of pages on the LSE website before I found anything connected to sport, but on the Princeton website the sport section was very easy to find," added Hui, a former pupil of South Island School and also a boarding student at Li Po Chun United World College in Wu Kai Sha.
Hui's rise to become the Hong Kong junior record holder of both the 3,000m steeplechase and the 15km is all the more remarkable because fewer than three years ago, she was just a recreational runner.
"I've always been quite active and I've been running since I was in primary school. However, I was not a member of a running club so I didn't enter many local races," added Hui, who lists adventure racing, kung fu and Muay Thai boxing among her sporting hobbies.
While studying at LPCUWC, Hui entered a 10km race that took place practically on her doorstep at Wu Kai Sha. After the race, she met Chan Ka-ho and girlfriend Yiu Kit-ching - both Hong Kong record holders at various distances. The couple suggested she join their club - Tsuen Wan Athletic Club - to train more effectively.
Soon after adopting Chan's training programme, Hui's race times came tumbling down, and she found herself with regular podium finishes in junior girls' events at a variety of distances up to the half marathon.
Chan, the Hong Kong record holder for the men's 3,000m steeplechase, suggested that given Hui's adventure racing skills she should give the steeplechase a try, and in her first competitive race in April last year she broke the Hong Kong junior record.
Later that month she broke the record again at the All China Junior Athletics Championships in Changzhou, and has lowered it again three times since then at events in Thailand and Sri Lanka, and most recently in May at Wan Chai Sports Ground.
In October last year, Hui took almost three minutes off the Hong Kong junior 15km record when she won the Xtep 15km Challenge by beating all of the senior women in the race.
Hui's success over the past two years has come as a result of base training to improve her fitness. Now she is ready to take on more targeted training, including working on her speed, which should come easier in a more temperate climate such as New Jersey.
"I spoke to the Princeton track coach last week and he was completely honest with me, and said that if I don't measure up I will be bumped off the team," said Hui, who also won the junior girls' race in the Diamond Mile in April.
"The steeplechase standard is very high at Princeton - in fact one of their male athletes made the final at the London Olympics last year - but I plan to continue with it and will try to keep lowering my Hong Kong record."
While Hui has her eyes fixed firmly on the academic side of university life she also has targeted the Asian Games and the East Asian Games as her two key regional events for the future. "I've been selected to represent Hong Kong four times already, but I would love to compete in the Asian Games," Hui added. "I'm not sure whether I'll be ready to race in the East Asian Games in Tianjin [later this year], but the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea looks like a very good target."