Julia Bourke could not have chosen a better time to leave our shores in pursuit of sports and academic excellence.

The up-and-coming Western Athletics hammer thrower and shot putter lined up a sports scholarship with Illinois State University in the US last year, but since the Redbirds – as the ISU sports teams are nicknamed – signed Bourke, it’s fair to say her star has risen even higher.

Bourke is coming off standout performances for Victoria on the national stage in the under-20 section at the Australian Athletics Championships in Sydney this month.

The Werribee resident took out gold in the hammer throw and silver in the shot put.

It was the first place in the hammer throw that turned heads.

Bourke has taken the event seriously only for the past two years, mainly because of the pleading of coach Fernando Canepa, a top hammer thrower in his day, that she give it a go.

“It was amazing to win because I’ve only been doing hammer properly for two seasons,” Bourke said. “Fernando was a hammer thrower himself, so I didn’t have much of an option but to throw hammer, but it took him a bit longer to convince me to do it.

“Once he did, it has almost become our main event.”

Bourke is still raw in athletics.

The 18-year-old, who trains at WestVic Academy of Sport’s Bacchus Marsh campus, has years of development and learning to come before she reaches her career peak.

That is not stopping her from dreaming of representing Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Bourke’s performances at the nationals did her prospects no harm.

“The 2018 Commonwealth Games are really a stretch target,” she said. “It’s such a strange feeling sitting at training seriously discussing my legitimate chance of qualifying.

“It’s going to depend on how much I can improve before December.”

Bourke, who is studying for a bachelor of science degree, majoring in nursing, will arrive in Normal, Illinois, the home town of Illinois State University, later this year.

She was impressed with the facilities on a tour of the campus during her enrolment.

The NCAA college sports competition will provide much tougher competition for her than what is available in Australia.

“There’s no way I’d be able to have the same sort of access to the facilities and competition that I will have over there if I stayed here,” Bourke said.

“I was talking to my coach the other day, and we were looking at some of their results … the distances that I’m throwing [that] put me in those top rankings in Australia wouldn’t even put me in the top 25 in America.

“The level of competition is something we couldn’t even imagine here.

“It will be amazing to push yourself because you’re going to have that competition day in and day out to compare yourself against.”

Bourke is the April nominee of the Don Deeble Rising Star award.

The award, hosted by the Sunshine Western Region Sports Club and

Star Weekly, recognises young athletes from the western suburbs who have achieved outstanding results at state and/or national levels.

Bourke will receive $1000, donated by the Yarraville Club Cricket Club, and other prizes, to assist her in achieving her sports goals.