The Malta Independent 22 September 2020, Tuesday

‘Winners are not those who never fail. But those who never quit’ - Eleanor Bezzina

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 9 August 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets ELEANOR BEZZINA, Malta’s top target shooter. She speaks about her childhood days, her local and foreign achievements, Olympic participation and favourite food and travel destinations

Eleanor Bezzina was born on 25 March 1977 and hails from Tarxien. She is the daughter of Victor and Josephine Bezzina and is the youngest of two siblings together with her brother Malcolm.

Being a positive and determined person Eleanor looked back at her childhood years. “I have fond memories of my childhood, playing with my brother and cousin in the fields next to our house. We were always accompanied by our dog in our ventures. After school, I would rush home to do my homework and then grab a ball or a bicycle and play in the neighbourhood.  My father was a baker and every afternoon I would go to give a helping hand at the bakery but it was also a good opportunity to meet my cousin who lived next door. We used to play passju or naqbzu l-lakstu. Those were the simple games of the time. My grandpa, nannu Karmnu, lived nearby and it was my pleasure passing time with him since he had a lot of animals and I used to love helping him to feed the chickens, rabbits, ducks, horses and sheep.  Needless to say, I was brought up loving animals.”

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Being an adventurous person Eleanor used to crave the summer time. “I remember almost every day heading to Birzebbuga (il-Qajjenza) or to Delimara and spend the day jumping and diving into the sea. My mother made it a point that I would have a buddy, normally my cousin or a friend. We would stay a whole day in the sea and the only time we would come out was at the end of the day when it was time to leave. My mother is from Lija and in August I would pass most of the time at my grandma, nanna Maggie. I used to enjoy sleeping there and the highlight was the feast of Is-Salvatur. I remember aunties and uncles, living abroad, would visit Malta during that time and it was a great time to celebrate together.”

Eleanor attended primary school at her hometown Tarxien and continued her secondary studies at Carlo Diacono School in Zejtun, furthered her studies at Sixth Form at G.F. Abela in Msida and finally completing her degree in Management at the University of Malta.

But how did her interest in target shooting start? Was there an interest in any other sport? “It all started with a coincidence!  An event was organised to try Clay Pigeon shooting at Bidnija Ranges and I joined in. The late Lawrence Darmanin (former president, Malta Air Rifle and Pistol Shooting Club) noticed us and invited us to have a look at the indoor range where the air pistol and air rifle shooting is practised. At that time, I used to play Netball and Waterpolo and shooting was not in my plans but with Lawrence’s enthusiasm and with my interest in venturing in a new sport I started practising target shooting in October 2009 and I never looked back.”

Bezzina from a tender age was always passionate on sports. “I started with tennis and horse-riding at the age of six but then joined RMF Birzebbuga Netball Team where I practised this sport for 19 years. I have such nice memories with my team mates, the nearly misses to win the national league and the celebration of winning. Forming part of the national team and competing abroad was an honour. At the same time, for a period of three years, I joined San Giljan Waterpolo Club. The atmosphere of a waterpolo pitch is really enjoyable. Today I practise an individual sport which sometimes I find it a bit hard since I miss the spirit of a team, though shooting is giving me great satisfaction.”

Reaching certain heights involves commitment, perseverance and dedication. Was it difficult for Eleanor to achieve her goals? “To excel in sports one needs the 3Ds – Drive, determination and dedication. Long hours of training at the shooting range to establish a good technique; physical training for muscle strength and endurance; and mental strength are fundamental to achieve certain heights in shooting. Although locally target shooting is not so practised at competitive level, abroad the number of shooters is huge. When I compete in World Cups and World Championships one has to be really prepared to compete against these professional shooters.”

She continued to describe her local honours achieved to date. I have won severel National Leagues. I won Gold in the Welsh Open Championship 2012, Scottish Open Championships 2013, GSSE, Luxembourg 2013 and GSSE, Montenegro 2019. I also achieved silver in GSSE San Marino 2017 and Bronze in the Luxembourg Grand Prix six year ago. Although I did not manage to secure a place on the podium with satisfaction I qualified for the final (with the first eight shooters) in the following competitions: XXI Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast 2018Mediterranean Games, Tarragona 2017, Grand Prix, France, 2015, 2017 & 2018 and Grand Prix, Netherlands, 2018 & 2019.”

Eleanor added her views about the build-up to success and what it means to go on the podium. “To achieve positive results, you need to train with dedication and perseverance, as well as competing in local competitions and experiencing competitions abroad. When I won the GSSE Gold in Luxembourg I felt a sense of relieve since at the previous GSSE edition in Liechtenstein in 2011, I was expecting good results but instead I had to settle for a fifth place and I was demotivated. From 2011 to 2013 I experienced more competitions on foreign soil and trained mentally for such games. Hearing the national anthem on the podium and seeing the Maltese flag rising up in the highest position was very satisfying. For the GSSE 2017 I had to settle for second place − it left me with a bitter taste. I was determined and prepared for GSSE 2019 to bring back the winning title and listen again to L-Innu Malti.

Eleanor took part in the Rio Summer Olympics and considers it another milestone in her illustrious career. Olympics is the most prestigious competition for any athlete and being part of Team Malta in Rio 2016 felt really good.  Living in the athletes’ village puts you in a state of mind to think and breath just about sports. 

A typical day would start with waking up at 6am, have breakfast at the dining hall, and head to the transport area where each sport had its allocated transport. It took an hour’s drive to arrive to the shooting range. After the morning training session, I would have a light snack followed by another training session in the afternoon. At the end of the training I would deposit my firearm equipment at the strong room and head back to the athletes’ village where I did a workout at the gym followed by a short jog in the track around the village. Later Team Malta would meet for dinner at the dining hall. Normally we would then head to the games’ rooms to relax and have a chat and share experiences with athletes from other countries. Then off to rest and prepare for another day as the competition approaches. You are surrounded by people who have one common factor which is sport, a passion which I treasured since a very young age. Olympics is always Olympics!

In life, as well as sport, there are the good and bad times.A good experience – GSSE 2013 where I was the first target shooter to win a gold medal in the GSSE. I had already won international championships but this gave target shooting more exposure. As well as the first time I was given the honour to be the flag-bearer and lead the Maltese contingent in the Mediterranean Games held in Mersin, Turkey in 2013. My disappointment was placing fourth in both events of the 10m Air Pistol and 25m Pistol competitions at the XXI Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast in 2018. I was so close to get two medals but failed to reach the podium.”

Another important feat for the target shooter was winning the Sportswoman of the Year award. How does this honour rank in her distinguised career.I was several times with the five finalists, even a runner-up in 2013 for the Sportiva tas-Sena and in 2018 I won this significant award. Unfortunately, I wasn’t present for the award since I was competing in a World Cup in India but it is recognition for the hard work and sacrifices an athlete faces to get positive results.”

But there remain particular moments that are still encrypted in her mind. Listening to the national anthem during GSSE in Luxembourg in 2013 when I won the first gold medal for Malta in target shooting. It is always an honour to represent Malta abroad and showcase our country positively with a victory.”

Looking into the future Eleanor took her time about what’s in store for target shooting in Malta.In the past few years target shooting has been more exposed and reached more the general public. In Malta there are a good number of amateurs in target shooting who practise pistol and rifle in all different disciplines on a regular basis. I encourage that a number of these shooters venture into this sport more professionally. We need more youngsters to practise this sport, but the need to obtain a shooting licence and having a guardian present for youngsters under 16 years of age makes it more difficult to encourage boys and girls to practise this sport.”

Bezzina states that the family is very important. Without their support one can’t practise and achieve. “From a young age my parents were very supportive. Both parents used to work but they always managed to prioritise things. Friends are very important too. Most of my closest friends are involved in sport or support in a way or another the sports’ community.”

Eleanor delved into her favourite culinary tastes. “Fish dishes are definitely my favourite, whether a grilled rockfish or a spaghetti vongole accompanied by a glass of white wine. A fresh orange juice is my favourite drink and cannot refuse a delicious piece of cake and an espresso.”

And what about her most sought travel destination? “I love European destinations for short breaks, like Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, etc… Europe has nice historical places to visit together with good food and fashion outlets to spend some time shopping. For longer holidays (when permitted) South Africa and Mozambique were stunning, the perfect combination of wild life, adventure as well as some urban life. My dream holiday is Galapagos Islands, where I would dive everyday surrounded by nature and lovely creatures. Luckily through sport I visited a lot of countries; in fact I have visited all the continents. While in a country competing, I didn’t have much time to go round but the feel of the country gives me a taste of the place and would help me decide if I want to plan a holiday there.”

Eleanor describes scuba diving as her favourite hobby. “The feeling of immersing into the blue sea is fantastic; it’s another world. Have other hobbies namely kayaking, horse-riding and trekking. Having free time is a luxury but for sure would involve one of my hobbies.”

She has one final advice to the young generation about sport.Make sports part of your life, whether at competitive level or as leisure time. Competitive sports can be demanding and requires sacrifices but at the end it gives you great satisfaction. Always be motivated to reach your goal. There will be ups and downs, but keep on challenging yourself, never give up − believing is achieving! “Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit.”

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