The Malta Independent 20 September 2020, Sunday

50 Shades of Greats: 'Make sports part of your life' - Sue Abela

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 23 August 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 27 days ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets SUE ABELA, Malta’s top bowler. She speaks about her Australia days, coming to Malta in her teens, her local and international successes and the good and bad experiences.

Sue Abela was born on 29 January 1966 in Melbourne, Australia. Her father was a professional footballer with Marsa FC, until he emigrated to Australia to play football for George Cross. His nickname was Ir-Rixa, but he was also known as Tal-Li Steak, after his father. There he met Frances and married in Australia. Sue has four siblings, three brothers and a sister.

Her upbringing was quite different from the norm since she was raised in another continent. “Being brought up in Australia was completely different to being brought up in Malta, back then. In Australia we used to play a lot of different sports, we did track and field, gymnastics and played basketball. The boys played soccer and table tennis, and also used to ride our bikes. Our father taught us how to swim at a very young age. I have fond memories of my childhood. My elder brother Steve and my younger brother Darren and I were like three peas in a pod. We spent a lot of time together; we used to race and swim against each other, Steve was always the fastest but Darren wasn’t far behind him. I was right behind them and always up for a challenge. I remember one summer in Malta – our regular swim with our father would be a swim from Qui-si-sana to the Chalet, climb to the top, jump off and swim to the Sliema pitch. It was great since we were very adventurous back then. In 1980 my father wanted to move to Malta for a year and we have been here ever since.”

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Abela gave a brief account of her educational background. “In Australia I attended Bulleen Primary School, then East Doncaster High School. I was 14 when we finally moved to Malta and here, I attended the Immaculate Conception in Hamrun.”

But how did bowling win over the other sports? “I always loved sports and being active. When we moved to Malta the only sport I played was netball at school then later on I joined the club, All Ages, where I played centre or wing attack. We managed to win a few national leagues. At the time we were living in Ta’ Xbiex and my brother Steve had made friends with children that used to frequent the Msida bowling alley. As a family we went a few times and really enjoyed it and made lots of new friends. Then, my sister and I joined the junior league. Rose Sutton used to take care of us back then and we played every Saturday afternoon. The boys weren’t so interested. Back then I was playing netball and bowling. As competitions for both sports were being held on Sunday morning, I had to make a choice. I gave up netball and chose bowling. I was a natural at bowling.”

Sue delves into the concept of what it takes to reach the ultimate goal. “To reach certain heights in bowling you have to give a lot, like any other sport.  For me it takes drive and self-discipline and you have to be very competitive; it’s you versus the lane, no excuses. You have to train hard and train with a purpose. You need to train on technique, on your physical game and also on your mental game.”

Abela was dominant on the domestic front for many years. “I had many local wins, too many to remember, but the main ones remain the most important. I have been crowned Malta National Championship 24 times out of 34. My team Fina has won the National Champions League 26 times. During these leagues I have won so many individual trophies. Every year bowlers look forward to competing in the Malta Open Championship where foreigners come to compete against the locals, a fantastic competition which has been going on for 28 editions. With pride I say, I have won this tournament for an amazing four times, twice when the female section was separate to the males, 1997 and 2002, and twice when male and female competitors bowl in one mixed division, 2017 and 2018.”

Internationally, Abela was practically victorious all over the globe. She gave an insight of this and what it means. What is better than to represent your country doing the thing you love most? For me representing my country is the greatest privilege I can ever have as an athlete. It is a thrill and a privilege because I know that I have prepared and trained hard and I will give my best, and with pride and pleasure I wear the national shirt.”

The help of her international sponsor, Brunswick, who provides Sue with the best bowling equipment available and also local sponsors namely Francis Sullivan, Fina Oil and SportMalta have been a big plus for Abela to excel in bowling to date.

As in everything there is the good and the bad moments. As for experiences, Sue describes the positives and negatives of her career. “The good experience is when I was crowned European Champion in 1999. This tournament invites all European reigning national champions plus the previous winners to compete against each other. There were 26 competitors and I had to play with each – the winner would get 20 bonus points for winning the game. I had won most of my games and made it to the top place. Back in those days it was Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden that made it to the final. The Netherlands won against the Swede so it was Malta against the Netherlands two game final. I felt so proud that Malta had made it to the final against these big countries. In the first game I managed to finish 20 pins ahead. With one more game to go I told myself that I would do whatever she is doing. She bowled 190, I bowled 189 and I kept the advantage; the score was 403 to 385. It was one of the most amazing experiences I ever felt.”

“The bad was when I was in Finland in 2011 for the European Championship. I made it to the semi-final, this time it was the best of three, against the local champion. I lost the first game by one pin, the second game went down to the last shot, I needed to hit an 8 or higher, I left 5 pins standing and lost by 2 pins, which cost me the chance to make it to the final but happy that I finished with a bronze medal.”

Abela won the Sportswoman of the Year award. How does this honour rank in your distinguished  career? “The fact that I was voted in the top five was already an honour. Winning it, was the icing on the cake. It is a good feeling knowing that you have been recognized and appreciated for all your dedication and hard training.”

But are there any particular moments that are still encrypted in your mind? “Yes, my first competition abroad, where I competed in the World Cup held in Malaysia in 1987. I competed with one bowling ball, that wasn’t even mine, as it belonged to the bowling alley. I made the cut and finished in 14th place; I was so happy! Also, when I won the European Championship… nobody had the Maltese national anthem with them, back then you couldn’t download it. But we managed just the same. We were about six Maltese people, they gathered near the podium and we sang it together. This memory lives on.”

“And in my career, I have tied twice for a Bronze medal, with the same player from England, Lisa John. Once in 2011 Finland, European Champion and the other in 2013 New Zealand Commonwealth Games singles event.”

Looking back through your career would you change anything if you had to start again? “I wouldn’t change a thing. I taught myself a lot about the game. It was tough back then, no YouTube… we used to play on a tougher surface, technology was different and the other countries were more advanced than we were. At the age of 30 I had my first coach, Christer Backe from Sweden and until today I am so grateful to him. I won my first European medal and many others under his guidance. Now I am with my current Dutch coach, Rick Vogelesang who keeps me in the modern game of bowling. We have also won loads of medals together. I would not be where I am today without these two great coaches during my career.”

Sue is frankly positive about the future of bowling in Malta. “With the inclusion of bowling in the National Sports Schools of Malta, the future looks good – there are already some young NSS students that already made their mark in bowling. As well as the promotion activities for young children at the Eden Super Bowl, like kids bowl for free all summer long make more kids interested in the sport.”

Sue believes in the importance of a good family foundation. “Family is always important, for me it is one of the important building blocks/foundation for a healthy and successfully sports career.”

Abela was blunt about her favourite dishes with her reply suggesting that she is not so fussy about food. “I eat all the food that is prepared for me and which I don’t cook myself.” As for travel destination, Sue has her particular spots which go far away from our continent. “I love the Asian culture… the world's oldest cultures, beautiful natural landscapes, delicious foods and friendly locals.”

Apart from bowling Sue also has her own hobbies. “Since 2010 I also started running. I became a member of the Ladies Running club and  have competed locally and abroad in half marathons. I have made some amazing friends through this club and recently I have taken up Pilates, which I love.”

Sue is a very busy and active person and doesn’t have much free time. In fact between family, grandchildren, work, bowling, running/walking and Pilates, free time becomes something rare. But Sue doesn’t grumble since she loves keeping herself busy.”

Sue wanted to pass on one final message to the young generation about bowling and sports in general. “Learn the fundamental skill and always make sports part of your life. There will always be a sport that you are good at, you just have to find what works best for you. Malta has made great advances in sports and we are privileged to have a National Sports School on the island; not many countries in the world have this opportunity where the young can study and excel in the sports they love. Make the most of it!”

 

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