M speaks vol­umes! (6)

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

achieve­ments as my own, but theirs as well.

I have been train­ing triathlon for the past five years. This all started by chance when a triathlon coach, Matthew Az­zopardi, spot­ted me run­ning and asked me if I would be in­ter­ested in the sport. That was the day that changed my life. He in­tro­duced me to the sport un­der MYTA, the Triathlon Fed­er­a­tion Youth Academy, and coached me for four years, giv­ing me a good foun­da­tion in the sport. Fol­low­ing these years we both de­cided that it was time to move on and for me to start train­ing with more ex­pe­ri­enced ath­letes in the group.

So last year I joined Team Fabio with Fabio Spi­teri as my coach. Fabio def­i­nitely needs no in­tro­duc­tion as he has just done the In­ter­na­tional Triple Ul­tra Triathlon! It is a strange feel­ing to hav­ing such a sport idol as your coach! Fabio is a very at­ten­tive coach. He con­stantly makes me aim for bet­ter re­sults while em­pha­siz­ing the need for a bal­ance in school, sport, rest and en­ter­tain­ment. Team Fabio is a great team. Even though all the other ath­letes in the group are adults, I was made very wel­come from the start and have made some great friends. In a way it is strange, but I know more adults than youths of my age be­cause of this.

As from last year I have stopped com­pet­ing in the youth races and started com­pet­ing with the adults. Con­tin­u­ing to com­pete with the same four youths does not make much sense when one is al­ways mak­ing a podium fin­ish. It only shows that you are one of the best out of those four. How­ever, com­pet­ing with a larger and more adult crowd is a real gauge of your level. I was in fact sur­prised that I did very well, es­pe­cially when com­par­ing the dif­fer­ence in age and ex­pe­ri­ence. That was a huge step in my sport de­vel­op­ment.

I was for­tu­nate enough to man­age to qual­ify for the Na­tional Sports School three years ago. I could not have asked for a bet­ter school as it has helped me in so many ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment. It gave me a con­fi­dence I did not know I had and very good time man­age­ment skills. I also got ex­cel­lent aca­demic prepa­ra­tion for my O-lev­els so I avoided hav­ing to go to pri­vate tu­ition and con­cen­trate more on my ex­ams and sport. I whole­heart­edly thank Mr. Mi­callef the school head­mas­ter, and all the teach­ers and staff for mak­ing these three years a unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

As goes with­out say­ing, the Triathlon Fed­er­a­tion also played an im­por­tant role in my life as an ath­lete. I started my triathlon ex­pe­ri­ence un­der its youth academy - MYTA. As I pro­gressed, the Triathlon Fed­er­a­tion con­tin­ued to give me the nec­es­sary sup­port even send­ing me abroad for train­ing camps. The MOC are also sup­port­ing me in my sport­ing ca­reer, hav­ing put their trust in me by se­lect­ing me to be in their Youth Elite Scheme for three con­sec­u­tive years.

In the last few months, the Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion have also shown their in­ter­est in me and have in fact sent me abroad for a fif­teen day train­ing camp. This was a very good op­por­tu­nity to im­prove my cy­cling skills. Train­ing camps give you the chance to train with ath­letes from other coun­tries and gain ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever in my opin­ion the sport in which you gain most ex­pe­ri­ence when train­ing abroad is the cy­cling. Un­for­tu­nately Malta is what it is, small and traf­fic packed. It does not of­fer the dis­tances or the el­e­va­tion that one re­ally needs for proper cy­cling train­ing, and the cy­cling lanes on our roads are made for com­mut­ing not for proper train­ing, not speak­ing about the very bad at­ti­tude that some driv­ers have on the road. Maybe some driv­ers need to see it from our per­spec­tives. We are peo­ple who work hard to im­prove in our sport while bal­anc­ing other com­mit­ments such as school or work, who have a fam­ily wait­ing at home and do not need to risk our lives to train be­cause some­one does not have the pa­tience to wait a few sec­onds.

How­ever my great­est sup­port­ers are my fam­ily. My par­ents are not sports-peo­ple, how­ever triathlon has not only af­fected my life, but also theirs. As I am still young, I have to be driven to ev­ery train­ing ses­sion, so they have to wake up at 5am with me and have din­ner when I am done from my last ses­sion of the day. My mother also at­tends most of my train­ing ses­sions. A few months af­ter I started triathlon, I had a bad ac­ci­dent with an­other cy­clist….blood, am­bu­lance, the run to the emer­gency depart­ment….thank­fully my coach Matthew and my mother were there when it hap­pened, and luck­ily all went well leav­ing just a two inch scar on my thigh. How­ever this re­ally af­fected my mother, who un­til re­cently, kept in­sist­ing to stay all through any train­ing ses­sion.

My lit­tle brother Daryl is one of my great­est fans as is my grand­fa­ther. They come to nearly all of my races what­ever time they have to wake up, and know­ing that they have to en­dure bask­ing sun while watch­ing me race. I love it when I pass by my par­ents or Daryl and I would hear a ‘Come On Mal­colm’, Daryl’s be­ing the shrillest of them all.

Triathlon is not a cheap sport. Though I do have spon­sors and fi­nan­cial help through schemes, how­ever, this is only the tip of the ice­berg. Three sports in­clud­ing coach­ing fees, races lo­cal or abroad, flights for train­ing camps abroad, equip­ment and the up­keep of the equip­ment it­self amounts to quite a lot of money per year. For this I once again thank my main spon­sors – my par­ents.

Many peo­ple who might be read­ing the ar­ti­cle might not un­der­stand the pres­sure that hav­ing so many peo­ple be­liev­ing in you en­tails. All these peo­ple and as­so­ci­a­tions have touched my life and they all have sup­ported me and in­vested in me in one way or an­other. I re­ally do feel pres­sure and I am a ner­vous wreck be­fore each and ev­ery race. I would never want to let them down. How­ever, know­ing this makes me more de­ter­mined to im­prove and train harder.

Maybe many peo­ple trust me as they know that I take all my train­ing, and any­thing I take up, very se­ri­ously. I never make up ex­cuses and I very rarely miss a train­ing ses­sion. It is not the first time that I went for a run­ning or swim­ming ses­sion in heavy rain in win­ter, only to find out that I am one of the few peo­ple there! I also be­lieve my­self to be very trust­wor­thy and loyal. I never back off from a chal­lenge and when a new ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity comes up, af­ter se­ri­ously eval­u­at­ing it, I am ready to take it with the same de­ter­mi­na­tion as al­ways.

Mal­colm, you are Amaz­ing. Nowa­days, stu­dents are backed up by their par­ents who keep com­plain­ing for long train­ing hours, too many home­work, pri­vate tu­ition etc... and yet you man­age to add fur­ther!! You sat for O level in Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion which sub­ject you didn’t learn at school and you play vi­o­lin. What about the vi­o­lin? Is it just a hobby or some­thing more? I can vouch that you rarely post on fb!! Your posts are mainly tagged by oth­ers. Surely you don t in­vest time on so­cial me­dia. Am I right or got the wrong im­pres­sion? What about your time man­age­ment which to me seems you ex­cel con­sid­er­ably too? If and when you avail of free time, what do you like do­ing most?

Time man­age­ment plays a very im­por­tant role. You have to make time for the things that are most im­por­tant. As much as study­ing and train­ing, rest and re­lax­ation are equally im­por­tant.

I do have a num­ber of hob­bies, though the time for these is quite lim­ited. When my brother and I were young, my mother in­tro­duced us to art and sport. I took up the sport while my brother is more on mu­sic and drama. I did play the vi­o­lin for a num­ber of years, how­ever, when I was asked to take it up more se­ri­ously, I had just got into the Na­tional Sports School and triathlon was be­com­ing more se­ri­ous, so un­for­tu­nately I had to stop.

My favourite way to wind off at the end of the day like most other chil­dren my age is on so­cial me­dia. It is true that I rarely post on Face­book, as in my opin­ion I only post that what is re­ally worth post­ing. In fact, most of my posts are race re­sults! How­ever, I have a close group of friends with whom I go out when­ever I can and with whom I play com­puter games on­line to re­ally re­lax.

The in­ter­view couldn’t be ef­fec­tive with­out the feed­back of Fabio Spi­teri who has been coach­ing Mal­colm for the past year. I dare say, Fabio, that your char­ac­ter is very con­trast­ing with that of Mal­colm. You are a joy­ful out­spo­ken guy, pro­mot­ing your sports, rais­ing aware­ness on many is­sues at all the times, us­ing so­cial me­dia con­tin­u­ously and ef­fec­tively! You lit­er­ally trans­formed lo­cal Triathlon to lofty heights. Mal­com is a timid guy, shuns the spot­light and yet his achieve­ments in sports are re­mark­able. How is your ap­proach to this type of char­ac­ter and kindly shed some light to Mal­colm s char­ac­ter since very few of us know about Mal­colm s char­ac­ter?

I am a coach of a big team and I can tell you all my ath­letes have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters but then it’s my job to blend in with the ath­letes and keep the group work­ing. Mal­colm is the most timid and shy of them all, he hardly speaks but you can see him smil­ing or gig­gling when one of us says a joke. Char­ac­ters can be of all sorts and types but what I look for an ath­lete is de­ter­mi­na­tion, will power and to give the 100%. Mal­colm, even though be­ing the youngest in my team (15 years old) he is one of the most ded­i­cated ath­letes, if not the most!! I give him pace and tar­gets dur­ing train­ing and races and he's al­ways on spot or slightly ahead. I also keep an eye on his re­cov­ery as its eas­ily for a coach to for­get he’s just 15 years old while he is do­ing these su­per-fast times amongst the elite sec­tion. Great fu­ture in­deed!

Mr Mi­callef, am con­fi­dent you pride your­self that your school has man­aged to at­tract Grade A stu­dents and elite ath­letes and now they are go­ing from strength to strength. I reckon that Mal­colm Vas­sallo is one of the most suc­cess­ful sto­ries at the NSS. Hav­ing him for 3 years, al­lowed you to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Mal­colm. What do you think are his virtues be­hind such grand tal­ent in sports and aca­demics?

Mal­colm en­rolled at The Na­tional Sport School in Year 9 opt­ing to leave a very good in­de­pen­dent school to pur­sue a dual ca­reer path at NSS. We knew he had very good aca­demic at­tributes and that he was a promis­ing triath­lete but what struck me most in him was his hu­mil­ity and will­ing­ness to im­prove fur­ther ev­ery sin­gle day while adapt­ing to new sur­round­ings. These were cru­cial in­di­ca­tors that he would be­come one of the most suc­cess­ful stu­den­tath­letes at our school de­spite the fact that his sport re­quired the onus of train­ing hard in three dis­ci­plines. The ex­cel­lent rap­port be­tween his fam­ily and the school en­sured that we could all work to­gether in har­mony to get the best out of Mal­colm. He worked re­ally hard to achieve ex­cep­tional aca­dem­i­cal re­sults and earn his place among the top 10 male triath­letes on the Is­land. And yet he re­mains ex­tremely grate­ful to all those at school who have sup­ported him all along his jour­ney. In­deed, an­other role-model who we are so proud of.

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