The Malta Independent 21 September 2018, Friday

The incredible transformation of Jake Gauci - an exclusive interview with a 16 year-old athlete

Friday, 14 September 2018, 10:28 Last update: about 7 days ago

Raymond A. Scicluna

Jake Gauci, a 16-year-old athlete, sociable, likeable, excels in middle and long distance, Savio College Past Pupil, Salesian Leader and an MCAST Student in Marine Engineering!

 

Jake, I still vividly remember day 1 of your training with the former coach: Mathew Croker and you were a timid, young boy, shy, introverted and totally focused on Matthew's instructions, stuck off the rest, nearly agitated prior to the cross countries and lacking self confidence in your abilities. Today, years later, I see a totally different version of grown up Jake: Independent, livelier, sociable, likeable, positive self-esteem, pro-active and strong presence during races. Rather than the former pre-race jitters, I can sense a positive approach for a race; unmatchable confidence whilst racing against senior athletes. Your results have been improving. I do understand that youths at puberty are introverted but such a welcoming transformation was quite unthinkable. To what do you attribute such positive development in your training; your social life and your interaction with others?

When I started running I was very shy and I would just go start my warm up and observe all the other athletes. All of them seemed to be much more relaxed and in control of the situation. The bigger the crowd, the louder and livelier the atmosphere would make me nervous and panicky. My coach at the time, Matthew Crocker, knew that I wasn't the most outgoing and confident person so he would talk to me face-to-face just before a race started. He would tell me I shouldn't be scared of anyone and that I should just focus on running my own race, go out there and enjoy myself, because after all that's the most important thing about running. These simple words boosted my confidence and I pushed myself with the belief that as long as I did my best and had fun in the process, I knew I would run a great race. Those words of encouragement were enough for me to achieve confidence in my abilities. The more I progressed I became accustomed to the athlete's life. From the training and the sacrifices to the final moment of the race, the more comfortable and relaxed I became. I started being more optimistic and confident before each tough training session or race. As time flew by I got to know many fantastic people and made new friends with whom I've had the pleasure of sharing my journey so far in Athletics. I've been able to meet different athletes and coaches from various clubs with their different opinions and perspectives. I respect all of them and I managed to learn lessons from all, contributing to my progress. All this has helped me grow both as an athlete and as a person.

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You started athletics under the guidance of Matthew Croker who patiently and meticulously taught you the right and proper way of how to handle athletics. Matthew is a great inspiration to many and am sure he is one of your mentors. He always had great faith in you and your progressive improvement is evidence. At present you are being trained by another formidable coach: Mario Bonello: still very patient and attentive to the least detail.  If you were to compare these two local athletic icons what is your opinion of them? I think that the transition process from Matthew to Mario went smoothly and it was just a consolidation of the same. They do perceive the same basics and principles. Which sessions do you prefer and which sessions do you like less?

I am very privileged to say that I started my experience in Athletics with one of the most iconic athletes in Malta's history and was honoured to learn, train and experience first-hand the highs and lows of training, the sacrifices and the races, with a role model of mine Matthew Crocker. Matthew was my coach when I started running. He showed me the basics and introduced me to a whole new world. When I started to progress, show my potential and achieve results, he suggested I try and take things more seriously and that I should start training with him and his coach Mario Bonello. This proved to be the right choice. With the guidance and impeccable coaching of my new coach I became accustomed to tougher and more frequent training sessions, new concepts on how to train, run and race. However, Matthew had already instilled the basics in me and since his philosophy resembled very much that of coach Mario, I experienced a smooth transition. My training varies from long runs, speed endurance, technique and pure speed. I don't really have any that I dislike, but I do tend to prefer the fast and speed endurance sessions even though these can be some of the hardest sessions one can do. They are fast paced and challenging from the very start till the end. There is always a battle between your mind and body, one tells you to stop the other to just keep going and not think about the fatigue because in the end it is all worth it.

 

You are a Savio College Past Pupil and like many of us, myself included, we carry with us that sense of ownership which distinguishes us from the rest and remains throughout our lives. One of my credos at heart which was Don Bosco's was "Idleness is the devil's workshop" and I can say that I lived up to it. I know that you are highly active in the Salesians community. I remember long time ago when I was young, eagerly waiting for those blessed 7 days to share with many other unknown children of my age at the Salesians' Summer Camps. Such experiences helped me considerably in socialising and learning new talents. Salesians are always at the forefront of youth development.  What are your experiences in these regards? Are there more activities on a regular basis apart from the summer Camps? What is your role and what does it entail?

I am lucky to say that I completed my Secondary education at Savio College. My school has taught me many things, not just academically but also life lessons that have allowed me to grow as a person. At Savio College I was provided with necessary skills to face my life journey confidently. Needless to say I was sad when my experience as a student was over, but luckily I started a different involvement at Savio College as a Salesian Animator. I've had the pleasure to meet and work with many amazing people. We organize activities such as Hbieb Domenico Savio meetings, live-ins and the Summer Camps for children. These activities are filled with fun and games in the Salesian spirit, helping children and youths grow while having fun and learning in a loving and caring environment. Such experiences gave me some valuable life lessons. I've learnt how to be a good leader. When and how to take the necessary action and adapt to given circumstances. How to overcome differences. How to work in a team and many more. All of which I nowadays use in both Athletics and my personal life.

 

Jake, you started athletics at the age of 13. Since then, I don't recall any absences from training except for some injuries where you had to stop for a while in order to do rehab. You did O levels and you fared well.  You are now sitting for a course in Marine Engineering at MCAST. How is it going? I know that MCAST is walking distance from home so you avoid wasting time and energy in catching buses. Are you coping well with proper time management vis-à-vis school, exams and training. There is an abysmal difference between Savio College and MCAST. One is very small and the students are visible; MCAST is on a different level. Was it difficult for you to swap from a spoon-fed school to one with less individual attention? What do you miss most from Savio and what are you gaining more from MCAST?

Currently I'm about to start the second year of my course in Marine Engineering at MCast. I've never been one to say that I put my life on hold to prepare for my O levels as I always kept the right balance between school and sports. Some people might think that it's difficult to study, train and socialize at the same time.  In my case, the training was my break after a tough day at school and more time spent studying at home. I would go to the track and put all my pent-up tension and frustration into my sessions. The trick for me was always being productive with the time available. As you correctly said, Savio College and MCast are two completely different worlds. From a school where the student is central and provided with a holistic education to another which is more oriented towards giving you the skills and experiences required to achieve the career you aspire for. I have to say I enjoyed both experiences so far together with their challenges. At first the freedom and independence given at post-secondary schools can shock you, but as you go along you get used to it making it a pleasurable experience. Both schools have and are preparing me for the future and for this I am very grateful.

 

Jake, you have now added loads of races to your CV and even your races abroad have significantly increased. You have witnessed on your own skin the difference between the local timings compared to our foreign counterparts. The longer the distance, the greater the discrepancy. Unfortunately, it has always been like this. What are the differences you experience abroad from here? What are your feelings when competing abroad and representing Malta? What do you think can be ameliorated in local athletics? You run the 800m, 1500m, 3000m and 5000m races, practically middle distance to long distance running. What are your ambitions in these races which so far you have been improving from time to time? Which race is most at heart and why? Tell us about your PB s and the immediate feelings post a new PB?

I count myself lucky to have been able to race against the best local athletes as well as some of the best talent in the world. Sadly it's true, we as a country are still a long way from being able to compete and achieve results internationally and with the world's biggest stars. However, I trust that in time, especially considering some of the upcoming talent, with good investment and sacrifice there will be opportunities to grow and improve the athletics' scene here in Malta. Competing abroad and representing one's country is always an honour and I have been privileged to have experienced it quite a few times. Every time I compete abroad I try not to put undue pressure on myself but nonetheless do my very best. Aware that my competition is on a higher level encourages me more to push myself and keep up with them. I try to be confident, calm and enjoy the experience. I started out running the 1500m and 3000m but now as I have grown older I am eligible to compete in the road races. I sometimes run the 5000m as an enjoyable way to challenge myself. In fact when I ran my personal best in the 5000m, at 17:15, I was very surprised as I wasn't really prepared for it and I ran very comfortably. I just ran with a smile on my face and enjoyed the race. I was surprised when I looked at my watch and saw the time, it gave me a sense of triumph and hunger for more at the same time. This year I tried to focus more on the 1500m and 800m to try and test my speed, this proved to be a good decision as I have performed beyond my expectations for this year. I have improved considerably, even more than what I had imagined. In a single year I managed to lower my personal bests by 5 seconds in the 800m to 2:03 and 17 seconds in the 1500m to 4:19. Every year there isn't a specific goal in mind apart from improving my personal bests, however my dream and long term goal is to be able to run a sub 2 minute 800m as well as a sub 4 minute 1500m. The 800m race holds a special place in my heart, the combination of speed and endurance make it one of the hardest races out there. Not to mention that it is my role model, Matthew Crocker's, main race. My goal before any race is to go for a new personal best. Once achieved this gives you the most rewarding feelings, knowing that all your hard work and sacrifices were all worthwhile and are finally showing results.

 

Jake, you are a smart student and an outstanding athlete. I am asking for an advice since I deem fit that you are proved and tested. What message would you like to convey to those students-athletes who, this year will be sitting for their O levels and suggest if possible the proper or idyllic way to cope with both without neglecting neither studies nor athletics?

Research indicates that sports can help you perform better academically. It isn't easy, but anyone can manage to keep up with their studies and sport. Time management is very important. Know your goals and prioritize wisely. Plan ahead and eliminate distractions. Social media and your smartphone can be your most sneaky time waster, so be careful!  It involves a lot of dedication and love for the sport too. My advice would be to be committed to both schooling and sports equally. With some sacrifices and hard work even though it may seem demanding and hard, at the end of the day you won't be disappointed especially with your results. If I did it you can do it too!

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