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Going for Number One

Paul Grech Monday, April 13, 2009 , ,
For an island that is blessed with so many beaches, swimming is a hobby for many but a serious sport for very few. Indeed the aquatic sport of preference in Malta remains waterpolo, at least among men, with only a small fraction opting to focus on purely on swimming.

Even so, performances are improving and last year saw the first Maltese swimmers qualifying to the Olympics by right after hitting the pre-set qualification standards. That mark was achieved by the Australian born Ryan Gambin whose series of fast times have forced the rest of the field to raise their targets. So it is that in swimming, whereas athletes previously could rely on a local best to qualify now it is clear that they will have to hit the qualification marks in order to guarantee their place at the Olympics.

It is that ambition which should inspire the next generation of Maltese swimmers, a group of which set a whole host of new national and age category records in a meet in Berlin held last December. That these records – thirteen in total - were spread across a variety of age categories and distances further strengthens the belief that there is the raw material for local swimming to keep on improving.

Certainly one who formed part of that group and with every intention of keeping up his progress is Daniel Galea. In Germany he managed to trash a twelve year old record in the Group C age category with his 1:12,48 in the 100 metres breast-stroke being 0.48 seconds faster than the previous best. This was then followed up with another record in the 50 metres breast-stroke in a time of 00:32,79.

Yet that wasn’t enough. As soon as the new year was a few days old, he once again improved his time in the fifty metres breast-stroke, lowering it down to 00:32,56 and at the same time setting a new Group D record.

All of this might seem like the pedantic, statistic laden speak that is likely to excite sports addicts but leave anyone else indifferent. So let’s put it in another way: this is a kid who broke two national age category records in mid-December and, rather than partying his way through the Christmas holidays as most of his peers did, kept on training hard so that at the first opportunity he could be in a position to break yet another record and keep on his progression.

Because that is part of the story of so many Maltese sports-people that never seems to get told: they work extremely hard to obtain whatever results they manage to achieve. This is immediately apparent as Daniel starts explaining his training schedule.

“Each day I wake up at five in the morning so as to get ready for my two-hour training session that kicks off at six. By 8:15 I’m at school until 3 in the afternoon where, after a quick snack, I’m back to the pool for another two hour training session. At around seven I start my school work and studies before packing up – dead tired – at around 8:30.”

It is a hard slog for anyone, let alone a teenager who has to find the self-discipline to keep it up for eleven months of the year regardless of the weather. Yet, somehow, Daniel manages to do so for the sport that he clearly loves thanks also to the support that he receives.

“My parents help me a lot because they’re always driving me around. At the end of the day, they know that this is what makes me happy so they’re more than willing to help out. They’ve been a tremendous influence on my career, though. There’s also my National team coach Andy Colburn as well as fellow breast stroker Andrea Agius who helps me a lot and is a great inspiration.”

His parents have been an influence in Galea’s career in more ways than one: swimming for Galea was almost a natural choice seeing that it was his father’s sport.

“I used to go to see my father swimming and decided that it was something that I wanted to give it a shot. So, when I was six, my parents enrolled me in the Skolasport scheme and I immediately felt at home. Soon afterwards, the people in charge of the swimming program approached my father and told him that they felt that I had a natural ability for the sport so from then on I joined the Sliema ASC swimming team. It all took off from there.”

Nine years on, he’s still as hooked as ever. “I love the feeling of competition,” he says, explaining what it is that he enjoys most. “I love racing and the rush that you get as soon as you jump into the water during a race. It is extremely relaxing and, for me, a great way to get rid of the tension that I might have from school and study.”

For someone his age – fifteen and with O Levels coming up – school and study can never be away from his thoughts. “There’s no allowance for the fact that you are training at a national level. You get an enormous amount of home-work and things to study so it can be hard to juggle everything.”

From his words and, more pertinently, the feelings of anguish coming through in the tone of his voice it is clear that this is something that really bothers Daniel. “After two hard training sessions and a day at school it is hard to find the energy to study but you have to do it. At the end of the day, I tend to crash out – literally – as tiredness takes over. The weekend is the same because I have to study as much as possible then meaning that I don’t normally go out.”

So has he ever thought of giving up? Does he ever wonder why he puts himself through all of this?

“Quitting? Yes, I often think about it,” he admits. “But then I think of all the races that I’ve won, all the records that I’ve broken and all the joy that I’ve felt and I decide that it is all worth it. Well worth it.”

If the thoughts of past successes fend away the inclination to quit, there is another goal that pushes Daniel on in his search for constant improvement: “I want to go to the Olympics. I want to be number one.”

And therein lies the path to success. If Daniel – and those like him – can keep their focus and determination strong enough to keep on searching to achieve their goals, then they will make it. No longer would there be the need to look abroad for a ‘Maltese’ athlete of a good enough caliber: those being bred at home would be more than good enough.

This article was featured in the March 2009 issue of Sunday Circle magazine.


Anonymous said...

Tnx for everything
Daniel Galea

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer