The roof was raised at the stroke of noon in Baystreet, St Julians yesterday as Thomas Cremona was cheered loudly for rowing his way into a new world record.
Supporters fought back the tears as he stopped rowing after 24 hours knowing that this was not the first barrier he has broken through. Mr Caruana, 22, has fought off leukaemia with which he was diagnosed at four.
Yesterday, he achieved the “longest continual row” in the Concept2 Individual Men 20-29 heavyweight category (he currently weighs 79 kg).
The day-long event was, to him, a way to reach out and show people there is life beyond cancer. “Stay positive and see the light at the end of the tunnel. There will be hard times but you can get through them,” an ecstatic Mr Cremona said, hoping his words would reach those suffering from the potential terminal disease.
His rowing machine perched on the platform in the middle of the shopping centre, Mr Cremona covered a total of 193,241 metres after he started pulling at noon on Saturday.
His friends supported him throughout the event with some even rowing on the two machines beside him.
“Not only were they here all the time but they even brought their own friends along with them,” he said, adding this helped to ease the challenge.
Asked what it must have been like to row in the middle of a leisure and entertainment hub on a Saturday night, Mr Cremona smiled broadly but preferred not to comment on some of the scenes he must have witnessed.
The young man took the men’s individual rowing record from Vincent Brunning of Plymouth, who had spent 20 hours on a machine in October 2009.
Yesterday’s finale was not the end of the road for Mr Cremona, as it formed part of his training for January, when he plans to join a team of five others to try to break the time record for crossing the Atlantic. He will also be the first Maltese person to ever row across that ocean.
Speaking to The Times after the conquest, Mr Cremona’s father Alfred said he was more than proud of his son for achieving this goal. He recalled the tragedy, for both himself and Thomas’s mum, of finding out that his little boy had been diagnosed with cancer. But his son, he said, had now gone beyond their wildest dreams and achieved so much.
This was yet another feather that the boy has added to his cap, his father pointed out, adding that he had also run both the half and full marathons, completed a life cycle challenge, and swum the Gozo channel.
“Thomas is a great inspiration, not only to his family and friends but also to those who need a guiding light.”
“It shows that if you have a chance in life you have to take it,” he continued.
Some 50 supporters gathered at Baystreet yesterday to chant the countdown beside Mr Cremona. The challenge was also a fundraiser for the Puttinu Cares Foundation, which helps children with cancer and their families.
The athlete recalled that the toughest part was at midnight, when his blood sugar was low and he had to keep pumping himself up with sugar-loaded drinks and food.
He admits not expecting such a good response in the morning and was overwhelmed with the support he received from his family and friends.
Mr Cremona get flashbacks of his fight against cancer when he was four years old and spent about four weeks in hospital followed by nine months of chemotherapy. But after years of regular medical check-ups, his cancer was found to be in remission.
“The older I get, the more I realise how lucky I am,” he said.
Acute lymphoblastic leuk-aemia is the most common form of cancer in children. It affects the blood and bone marrow and is characterised by an overproduction of immature white blood cells, which form part of the immune system.