La Belle Dame Sans Merci: An in-depth Interview with Rachela Pace 

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Rachela Pace, 15-year-old, hails from Dingli: a peaceful village which juxtaposes well with her character. Assertive person, likeable, discreet, avoids the limelight, no sponsors attached and yet outstanding in her performances.

 

Rachela, you are indeed another National School of Sport Student success story!  You practice Athletics and Football at Team Malta National level and that is something impressive. Rachela, whilst I know that you form part of the first 11 of the Malta Football Women National Team Under 16, I can describe you as an all-rounder in Athletics. I recall that you competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 600m, high jump and Long jump with overwhelming results. As of lately, it seems to me that you are more focused on the long jump rather than the former mentioned events where to be honest, you were always one of the prime actors at the end of each event. You set various all-best performances in different disciplines, can you please specify?

My family is a very sportive family. All of my siblings and parents used to do a sport in some way or another and that pushed me into practising sports myself. My football career started at the age of five with Dingli Swallows FC, I was the only girl of the whole team. By the age of five I won the Most Dedicated Player Award (the boys weren’t very happy). In that same year, whilst watching my sister train athletics I approached her coach, Angie Mangion, and asked permission to join her session. She agreed and from then on my athletic career begun. I first started racing in the cross-country events, where I always came first overall.

Thanks to playing football I developed a lot of endurance and stamina which helped me in the 1,000m, 800m and also 600m. In the 1,000m I set a U/14 National Record which later on was broken by another athlete. In the 800m and 600m I had a very good time also. Meanwhile I was chosen to play for the Maltese National Football Team.

Then my first ever injury arose. My knee got hurt and so I couldn’t run. So I turned to high jump and hammer. I continued practising the high jump and broke both the U/14 and U/16 National Record in which I also jumped more than the Women’s National Record but being too young it couldn’t be recognised. I also won my first ever international medal doing the high jump in Brno Czech Republic 2015.

After recovering from my injury I decided not to run any more long distance running so I focused on the 400m, 200m and 100m as a back injury made me stop doing the high jump and made me focus more on the long jump. I was doing very well in the 400m but my knee injury struck again so I had to stop and focus more on the long jump. In the long jump I managed to set the U/16 record twice. Once abroad by jumping 5.61cm and the second time during the Open National Championships here in Malta by a jump of 5.70cm. I still do the 100m and the 200m as they help me in the long jump.

Whilst still practising athletics I played my first international tournament together with the Maltese National Football Team. I was in the first eleven team in all games and scored a goal in one of these matches.

 

Rachela, you are the current Youth National Champion of Long Jump and I may surmise that you were never beaten in your age category. Moreover, during last Open National Championships you were invited to compete in the adult category against national icons including Rebecca Sare and Claire Azzopardi. Everyone was in awe for your leap of 5.70m which resulted in the overall best jump. This was something unheard of, how was your reaction and do you think that such performance has enhanced your self-confidence?

I was thrilled to have jumped such a leap. I was and still am working hard to improve myself.  After every competition I remind myself that it’s never enough and that I always have to keep pushing for more. That jump also meant that I broke my previous National Record which surely enhanced my self-confidence but there’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance, and I make sure not to cross that line.

 

Rachela, you are representing Malta abroad quite regularly and there will be further in the future! Which competitions and results are most at heart and which international events are you eyeing?

The most competitions that I treasure were both held in Brno Czech Republic. The first one was in 2015 when I was the youngest athlete to represent Malta and to get a medal which was a bronze in high jump. The other was last year 2017 when I managed to jump 5.61cm which meant a silver medal and a national record.

Since I am still 15 years old the only international competitions that I am eyeing at the moment are the COJI Games and the Fisec Games, as to participate in the GSSE Games you have to be 16 years old and I won’t be 16 years old when the competition takes place next year.

 

Rachela, you hail from distant Dingli but nonetheless I can vouch that you train regularly at Marsa not less than three times a week with your parents watching you from the stands. I dare say your family is a highly supportive one and an encouraging one too. How much do you rate the support of your parents and others whom you think are backing you in this sports venture?

I honestly couldn’t rate them. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t probably be where I am today. They’re my backbone and they are always there for me during both bad and good times. The amount of patience, love and support I get from my family is unrepayable . The same goes to my coach Angie Mangion who has been there for me since the start of my athletics adventure. She is the one that never gives up on me and that has always supported me since I was very little. I always feel so lucky to be surrounded by such people.

 

This year can be a decisive and tough year for you since you have to sit for O Levels exams. At school, I know that you fair very well but O Levels are never an easy task for anyone. What are your plans for this year as regards training and competing vis-à-vis Examinations? Do you think you can manage to train and compete regularly or you have to focus more on the exams?

It’s all about finding balance between the two. You cannot solely train and not study in such an important year of one’s life. You have to be able to juggle between priorities. It’s not easy to see other athletes training and competing in the sport you love whilst you’re at home studying but, if need be I will make sacrifices. After all they’re sacrifices which will definitely help in my future.

 

Rachela, you are a fine young lady who seeks no attention and limelight. High jump and long jump both need full concentration and the least distraction pre and during the jumps can be decisive. Do you think that being so quiet and peaceful helps during such events?

It really depends on the person itself. I sometimes like to be quiet and peaceful before jumps but I also sometimes like to listen to some music. As regards to during, I always try to be quiet and concentrate on the event so that not to distract other athletes as well as myself. For me it’s really about finding one’s preference.

 

Rachela, your school embraces the dual career path: Academics and Sports. You are a smart student and a formidable athlete too so I cannot help asking what are your future ambitions in Athletics and in your prospective vocation? What do you think can be improved in Athletics to make that extra leap?

In athletics I obviously aim to participate in the Olympics when I’m older but as well as to continue enjoying the sport itself. Regards to my prospective career I haven’t quite decided yet, but I always have dreamed about finding a job where I can be useful to other people. In fact, one of the many things I have in my bucket list is to participate in some sort of voluntary work. At the end of the day, I would do any job as long as I am happy doing it.

The greatest drawback for me in athletics is probably the facilities we use so that should definitely be improved. They’re not the worst but they’re not the best either. In order to have great professional athletes, the athletes themselves need the proper facilities, professional coaches, more opportunities to go abroad and more financial support. Another thing which has a huge effect on me personally is the traditional maltese mindset: that we are too small to compete with other countries. No we aren’t. If we have the right facilities, the right financial support and the right mentally to win, there’s no reason why we should not be able to compete with bigger countries.

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