The MTF caught up with member George Vella, triathlete for many years, soon after his amazing adventure at the first edition of the Deaf European Marathon Championships where he got a superb Second place on the podium. This is what George had to say :
The incredible feeling that swept over me as I stood up on that international podium to receive my silver medal was indescribable. It is one that shall remain with me for a lifetime. The 1st Deaf European Marathon Championships was held in Lublin, Poland on that fateful Sunday of the 10th May 2015. It was with deep pride and honour, as well as gut wrenching nerves that I travelled to this prestigious event to represent Malta in the 42.2km marathon race. A total of 650 hearing impaired and regular athletes were on the race start.
The European Deaf Sports Organisation (EDSO) has recently recognised that this challenge should be one of it’s major events on the international athletics calendar and it was open to all, to both hearing impaired or Deaf runners as well as runners who do not share this disability. This is a huge stepping stone for all other Deaf and regular marathon events to emulate. Since the Deaf Sports Association of Malta is affiliated with the EDSO and Deaflympics, all Maltese Deaf athletes can now participate in similar international events organised by the It was during my triathlon training in December 2014 that I got to know about this event. Triathlon was a sport that I had been competing in since 2006 and where I also achieved some great results.
After some serious thought and also to the fact that I was having some difficulties with my cycling programme I came to a conclusive decision to participate in this European event. My experience and endurance in long distance running fortified my decision although this required that I make a radical change to my training schedules. The necessity of having to be at the optimum for a good performance pushed me to make regular visits to my physiotherapist and osteopath as I knew that I had to follow a slow but steady build up to get stronger and optimize my endurance without any risk of injury or burn out. This not only requires the power of self-discipline but also a skill of time management to balance out all other duties and daily responsibilities in every- day life. I also had to prepare myself mentally for the intense 4 months of training leading to this gruelling event.
Although unfortunately I had no funding from any organisation or sponsorship I thought it best to still approach the knowledge and expertise of a coach in order to increase the quality of my performance. This proved to be beneficial although I did encounter periodical injuries which made my training at times really hard and even more challenging as my mind by now was set and there was no way I was going to give up. I trained till I felt I could drop but I kept pushing on. I had to improve my diet and make sure that I do not overtrain and keep my weight in check as long running sessions eventually eat through every bit of fat so I even reached out to the services of a nutritionist. Day by day the trainings sessions were coming closer to the day of competition.
Reaching the venue proved to be a long journey by air, landing first in Zurich then grabbing another flight to Warsaw and a coach ride to Lublin. Once settled in a technical meeting was held on the 9th May, the evening before the race where route details were discussed as also were explained the rules and regulations to be followed during the marathon race.
The morning of the 10th May 2015 all athletes assembled on the start line and at 0900 hrs and as soon as the much awaited start signal was given I took off through the historic centre of Lublin with an easy, comfortable pace where eventually at the 10th kilometre I realised I was in the 8th place amongst the Deaf Men category. I tactfully decided to follow two of the hearing runners and together we gradually increased our pace. At the 18 km I was in 5th place and by the 22-23km I was placing 3rd. It is here that my excitement started to materialise and I realised that I mentally had to convince myself to control my pace for the sole reason not to incur any injuries or risk any cramping of my leg muscles. I came to the conclusion that I had to calm myself down and to continue pacingbehind the mentioned two runners. At the 30 km mark I had to face the last long uphill route where eventually when I arrived to 32 km mark I came in sight of the 2nd placed deaf runner. Slowly but surely I drifted past him still keeping a controlled pace behind the other runners.
At the 33 km the distance between me and the two runners was increasing and I realised that I had to reserve my energy for the last 9 km feeling the huge responsibility of reaching the finishing line and keeping in mind that I was defending a second place on the podium. Controlling my breathing was becoming more intense as the uphill route seemed endless where at last at the 40 km mark I hit flat terrain although by now fatigue had started to settle in and the fear of not performing to my best with only just 2 km to go was a constant battle. To make things worse it started raining making the road seem longer in the slippery conditions. I also came to the point where I needed to protect my leg muscles from cramping whilst I felt the other Deaf runners catching up I kept hoping that the finish line was not too far. I finally reached a curve, my heart lifted, it was the last curve with only 200 m to the finish. Ignoring all myaches and pains I picked up all the energy I had left and sprinted to the finishing line with a fast beating heart happily signalling with my right hand my 2nd place and this in sign language and Europe with my left.
After a gruelling 3hr 01m 16s run I finally and exuberently crossed the finishing line a few metres behind Oender Karakuelah, the Turkish Deaf winner and a most satisfactory 18th overall from the whole 650 runners. This was my 1st international marathon and after all the mishaps and difficulties during the my year’s training schedule it would be more than fair to state that I feel a great pride in finishing a task which at times proved to be not only stressful but a difficult goal to achieve.
I focused on reaching the finishing line and I did. I went even further than that by proudly raising the Maltese flag in a foreign country with a Silver Medal round my neck and Malta always in my heart.
This is one of my highest achievements ever after a track record of participation in various important international events namely 3 Deaflympics in Rome 2001, Taipei 2009 and Sofia 2013. I also gave my best in the Indoor European Championships of Deaf Athletics in Sofia in 2004 and the European Cross Country in Portugal in 2007.
My forte was the 800m events due to my strength and speed endurance and in due time the distances became longer and more of a challenge to beat and obtain the optimum of results.
The future is promising more events. My desire is not only to have the opportunity to represent Malta but also to put my country on the sports map once again. In the upcoming years my training schedule to be one of intense preparation as I aim to participate in the World Deaf Athletics Championships in 2016 and Deaflympics in 2017. Also I am eager to participate in future Triathlon`s races once this sport is included by Deaflympics and EDSO. The time has seriously arrived where I am recognised and treated as any other athlete by the authorities when it comes to funding and sponsorship and where I am also included in specialised schemes as by now I think I deserve to be appreciated for all the efforts sacrifices I dedicate to sports and to give my country the reputation it
The Malta Triathlon Federation congratulates George and wish him the very best of luck in his future projects.
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