The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

50 Shades of Greats: ‘Be focused, committed and never give up’ - John Magri

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 17 October 2021, 11:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets John Magri, who shares with us his beautiful moments of his cycling career, his business success which involves four generations and the love for his wife Pawlina.

John was born on 7 April, 1941, son of Paul and Innocenza. He is married to Pawlina nee Mangion. They first met when John was an 11-year-old and she was still 9.

‘It wasn’t an easy ride to get her since at that time parents were rather strict. But I showed my commitment from a young age and even told her bluntly that one day I will marry her. And that’s what happened and luckily with all the ups and downs we have been together for the past 58 years. One of our marriage rules was that whatever the situation before we go to sleep we kiss and wish each other a good night. Our family consists of four children namely Patricia who lives in Oregon, USA, Claudia, Paul and Nicolette.

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John had to cut short his schooling since he lost his dad when still very young. ‘My dad died when he was still 55 years old. I had to leave school at the age of 14. My dad developed a cancer in the bone marrow and he had his leg amputated. It wasn’t a success and three months after the operation he died. So I took over the cycling shop, eventually leaving school though they wanted me to stay since above all I was a good Maths student.’

But just short of eighteen John decided to give it a go and move on to Australia. ‘It was a Saturday afternoon and I spoke to mum about it, telling her that I wanted to go abroad. I was still seventeen years old so somebody had to sign up for me as guarantee. My cousin Lucenz did the job. And so off to Australia for two and a half years I went.  I also used to sing over there and take part in competitions. One day I was also on the radio singing Sugar Moon of Pat Boone on Channel 7. So it was a nice though tough experience.’

But how did Magri’s interest in cycling start? Was it a first love sport? ‘The truth is that I used to love football. Since I used to work in the bicycle field they used to tell me how come I don’t practice this sport.  A lot of youths used to come over to my shop and they used to encourage me to form a club. And we did it and I still have the minutes of the meetings. But one day whilst training we met Ganni Sammut, Anglu Fenech (the ex GWU General Secretary) and Carmelo Agius. John wasn’t happy so much that we formed a club and he told me that it was time to amalgamate the club with Mosta Cycling Club.’

And as regards the competitive side of it? ‘I was 24 years old, so it was a bit late in starting this sport. It all happened when there was the Mizieb Hillclimb. That was my first race. And I finished third. On that day Carmelo Agius and Joe Lanfranco told me that I had a future ahead in this sport.’

But what’s the recipe to reach certain heights? ‘Every sport has its own style and requisites.  I was also good in football since I used to play as a half back with Mosta. After winning the Under 18 league I went to Australia. But when I decided to go for cycling I said that I have to be professional. I used to regulate my body and take good care of it. I was very disciplined in all aspects. And I had some good cycling buddies like, my brother Joe, Carmelo Muscat, Joe Farrugia, Leli Tanti and many others. But we had a very good team and this was confirmed by our consecutive participation in the Mediterranean Games.’

John also participated in the 1972 Summer Olympics, the famous Munich edition. What’s the experience like? ‘The Olympic Games are very hard. The participation is for the top athletes in the world.  Though the Med Games used to be hard with nations like Italy, France, Spain and Jugoslavia amongst others, the Olympic Games are a different preposition. We participated in the team time trial. The great Hubert Opperman was on our side a lot. He used to help us and support us. He was a very good cyclist even finishing in eighth place in the Tour de France. Having said that for the Olympic Games you have to be totally focused and willing.’

Turning our attention to personal awards John was the winner of the Sportiv tas-Sena in 1971 and 1975. What’s his opinion about this event? ‘When I won the first in 1971 there was the legendary Francesco Moser participation in the Mediterranean Games held in Turkey. The road race was similar to our Dwejra one.  My timing was normally about sixteen minutes away from the winner and I was also there with Moser. I made it four minutes away from the winner so I had made great strides reducing the time by twelve minutes.’

But for Magri are there any particular moments that are still encrypted on his mind. ‘Yes for sure it was 1971 competing against Moser and Ortolani, advancing so much my time and it’s true that it was something big. The local media splashed my pictures all over with ‘Il-Mument’ publishing a picture of me flanked with the words ‘The Personality of the Year.’ So yes when I saw all this I was pretty sure that this was my year and I won it twice in 1971 and four years later.’

What’s John affinity with cycling in today’s world. ‘I’m still the President of the Mosta Cycling Club. Not that I wish to but circumstances dictate so. My mission has always been one to pacify things and I have been always very careful how to react in certain instances and situations’

‘And talking about the future this doesn’t look bright. When you look back the years going to various places and as Mosta Cycling Club winning fourteen out of sixteen titles was a great achievement. And even the consecutive participation in the Mediterranean Games. Even the average speed progess nowadays is not that much as it was before.’ 

Magri Cycling shop is an icon in this field on our island.  It has passed on through none other than four generations dating back to 1889. ‘My grandma was a shoemaker and after some time she opened this shop and it was taken over by my dad though as stated before his life on this planet was not for so long. So I took over and even Paul and Nicolette are in the business.’

‘The business is good and it’s always going. From the work that I have at the shop I can gauge what the interest in cycling is. Yes interest in cycling has increased but not on a competitive level, it seems more for leasure.’

John is a family man and he talks with great pride about his wife Pawlina and four children. ‘For me the family is everything. Even before we got married we already planned our family. We were already looking forward to have kids and we were lucky to have four during a sixteen year span. But I can openly say that my wife is behind my success story. I had her unconditional support. I had five concussions during my career and various injuries and even difficult times but Pawlina was always there.’

And what’s John’s favourite food. ‘I love all kinds of pasta. But bit strange how I like it. I prefer boiled pasta with just a bit of grated cheese on it and that’s it. But I’m also a great lover of vegetables.’

Magri mentioned Greece, the former Jugoslavia and England as his favourite travel destinations. And any other hobbies? ‘I love all kinds of sport and I follow mainly football with Wolverhampton Wanderers being my favourite team, boxing and tennis.’

Finding some free time what does he enjoy most doing. ‘I like to go for a walk and am still in the Club and still very active so killing time is no problem for me.’

Finally John wanted to pass one final message. ‘I always try to encourage people to choose a sport when they come over to the shop. But you have to make choices in life and that’s what I tell everyone. Be committed and focused and never give up. To reach certain levels is  not easy but if you set a goal you will work hard to achieve it.’

 

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