M speaks volumes! (6)
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.