Often, when Maltese athletes travel to compete abroad, sceptics and armchair critics will complain over the futility of it all, arguing that the money spent to finance such trips would have been better utilised on some other endeavour.
What is the point of incurring these expenses knowing that success is next to impossible and embarrassment a distinct possibility, the argument goes.
What those who hold such opinions fail to appreciate, however, is that for most sports people the possibility of facing better athletes – which competition abroad often provides – is what drives them on.
That is certainly the case with Rachel Fitz.
My current goal is to go under the 12 seconds in the 100m... it’s a big motivation
The young sprinter has worn Maltese colours at three majors this year (the World Indoor Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the European Team Championships) and these have been life changing events for her.
“I’ve definitely experienced a mental shift,” she reflects.
“It all started when I came back from the indoors. I saw so many good athletes who work so hard and that inspired me. I want to get to that level... I want to run as fast as they do. It is impossible not to be motivated when you see those athletes.”
Fitz certainly has, as she readily admits.
“Before, athletics was just a hobby for me,” she added.
“I did well but my results weren’t anything special. Then, this year I started to focus a bit more and as a consequence my performances improved.
“Obviously, when you’re setting good times you are encouraged to work harder and do better. My current goal is to go under 12 seconds in the 100m... it is a big motivation.”
Those good results that she mentions allowed her to win her spot in the 60m dash in the World Indoors.
It was a big moment for her not only because she, like many other local athletes, are not accustomed to running indoors but also because it provided Fitz with her debut in a major senior international event.
Indeed, that psychological challenge of going toe-to-toe with athletes of international repute in front of big audiences can be as crippling as any physical test.
“At first I was a wreck! I was really nervous,” she says, talking about those minutes leading to her event.
“Then I began doing my warm-up and started getting even more nervous. As soon as I walked out on to the track, however, it passed. There were lots of people watching, encouraging us to go out and do our best. So when the time came to compete, I wasn’t nervous at all.”
That experience helped her when it came to the Commonwealths in Glasgow where she took part in the 4x100m relay.
“There was some nervousness but then I reasoned that I was there with my friends and we were going to do well.
“I was running the fourth leg so my focus was directed entirely on the zone markings to ensure that I didn’t over-run without the baton. When I’m running I’m wholly focused on my movements; otherwise I risk making mistakes.”
All of this year’s experiences have set her up nicely to keep improving both in the current and next year.
“Long term I want to aim for the Olympics but next year the main target is the GSSE,” Fitz said.
“This year I feel like I have improved my technique a lot. I still need to improve my start. I’ll be working with my coach Edward Grech to make sure I get that right.”
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