Regardless of the sport, coaches fear athletes reaching their mid-teen years like nothing else.
It is during this period, when the study-related stress starts to pile up – and other attractions begin to dominate their attention – that most give up the sport.
For those who do press ahead, the next hurdle is work… where the reduction in leisure time results in a decline to put in the hard training needed.
Charlton Debono fell into this latter group.
“I was always interested in sports,” he said.
“Over the years I tried many disciplines such as tennis and martial arts. I also spent a few years in weightlifting and bodybuilding.
“I must say, however, that I always enjoyed running in general.
“When I was at university, I started competing in athletics, focusing mainly on the 800m races.”
Then things changed.
“When I started working (in Gozo) I stopped competing and kept training just to keep fit,” he added.
“Then, about five years ago, I decided to take up competitive athletics again, initially in middle distances.
“After several discussions with my coach and mentor Mario Bonello, we decided that I should give longer distances a try.
“My training changed as it was now geared towards the longer distances, at first going for races between 3km and 10km.”
His dedication was such that he even overcame the barrier posed by the relative lack of facilities.
“I was mainly using the Gozo horse racing track for training at first, so I could train much easier for these distances and eventually the hard work soon started to pay off,” Debono explained.
“I experienced a huge, sudden improvement. I won the first two races of the MAAA Road Running League in autumn.
Winning the Malta Half was a great honour and not just as the first Maltese athlete home. In fact, this race had not been won by a local athlete for six years
“This was soon followed by good performances in other races, especially when winning the next two league stages in January at Qawra and Ta’ Qali.
“That meant I won the title with a race to spare.”
That success, however, was nothing compared to the Malta Half Marathon which, he admits, was the “one target on his mind”.
Debono said: “I was much more prepared for it than last year, I already knew the route and I knew that I was in good shape. So, I was much more confident.”
And the confidence was well-placed as, at the end of a tactical race, he emerged overall winner.
“Winning the Malta Half was a great honour and not just as the first Maltese athlete home.
“In fact, this race had not been won by a local athlete for six years,” Debono, who recently represented the country at the World Half Marathon Championships, said.
Despite Debono’s success on the road running circuit, he has no plans to abandon the track.
“I will be competing in distances between 1,500m and 10,000m,” he said.
“Hopefully, I will keep improving my times in these distances as well.”
Such improvement is the result of hard work as well as the support of a number of people.
“My girlfriend Joanna is extremely patient and supportive,” Debono remarked.
“My coach gives me continuous guidance and support along with my sponsors Nyoo Ħamrun, Urban Jungle and Team Barry Whitmore – Malta Challenge Marathon.
“I would not be able to achieve all this without the support and help of all these people around me along with all my fellow Gozitan runners and our ever growing Gozo Athletix AC.
“I want to keep moving forward and obtaining good results.
“I also hope to have more experiences abroad because it is very important to improve my performances.”