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Young hope and the money anchor

With finance in our sails, we could achieve the highest level of sport, Malta’s national sailing coach Jean Paul Fleri Soler tells Simonne Pace.

Richard Schultheis

Richard Schultheis

Four local teenage sailors have launched a campaign on local crowdfunding platform Zaar to raise funds that would enable them to compete in the 2018 Optimist World Championships as Team Malta.

The young boys, Richard Schultheis, Saul Vassallo, Nico Dreschner and Antonio Gasperini, all members of the Malta Young Sailors Club, will be competing against 300 other sailors from 55 nations. The championships will take place between August 26 and September 6 in Limassol, Cyprus.

“The boys’ skill level is extremely high,” says their coach Jean Paul Fleri Soler, who is also Malta’s national sailing coach.

“At this point, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning the sailors’ skills. They know how to sail really well and are at the very top of the ladder.”

Having trained young sailors in the Optimist class for the past 19 years, Fleri Soler says: “Children love sailing. Through this sport, they become so much more independent, aware of the world around them and realise that if they take it seriously, sailing can become a way of life.”

He adds: “Unfortunately in Malta, there’s still the stigma of sailing being a sport that can only be practised and enjoyed in summer. However, the Malta Young Sailors Club is trying to change this mentality through a love-for-sailing approach.”

The club strives to be a centre of excellence for sailing by making the sport affordable, seeking and cultivating children’s potential, increasing physical activities and fostering well-rounded members.

“These four young boys have been training regularly, especially over the weekends in winter and more often in summer because of the longer days and school holidays. The club also managed to get a special permission from the boys’ schools during the scholastic year to leave earlier, so that by 2pm they could be at sea undergoing rigorous training,” explains Fleri Soler.

If children take it seriously from a young age, sailing can become a way of life

Asked if Malta has the potential to make it to the highest level of sport, such as the Olympic Games, Fleri Soler, a former Olympic windsurfer, says they can definitely do it.

“The major stumbling block is finance. If you have a sailing federation that covers you, the sport will become sustainable.”

From past experience, having participated in three Olympic Games in 1984, 1988 and 1992 in Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona respectively, Fleri Soler says the competition is a gruelling process.

Saul VassalloSaul Vassallo

“If you train hard you can do it. If there’s talent, it’s even better.”

The four boys have already competed in a number of national ranking regattas to earn the privilege of representing Malta in the upcoming major world championships.

“We will be competing against the top five ranking Optimist sailors from every country in the world,” says Saul.

“Unfortunately, we do not get much funding, so we usually come up with funds ourselves. This year, we have set up a crowdfunding campaign to ask for financial help, and we really appreciate any support in getting us there. We are hoping to make Malta very proud.”

Practising all year round and participating in intensive monthly international training camps and regattas, two of the four boys recently won gold and bronze at this year’s Island Games.

Jean Paul Fleri Soler. Photo: Chris Sant FournierJean Paul Fleri Soler. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The sailors are now confident that their prospects for attaining top positions in the Optimist World Championships are high, making history for Malta and for local sailing clubs.

The Optimist sailing class is aimed specifically at youths aged under 15, who single-handedly operate a small, one-design boat not larger than 2.5 metres in length.

“Optimist dinghy sailing is one of the most competitive classes of sailing,” says Fleri Soler, who retired from windsurfing in 1993 after winning a gold medal at the Games of the Small States of Europe in Malta.

Through the crowdfunding campaign, this year’s Team Malta is seeking to raise €10,000 to cover the cost of travel, accommodation, uniforms and participation, as well as chartering the boats at the world championships.

Although the team already has one backer – the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation – they recognise that it will be donations from supporters via the Zaar platform that will make the difference in their venture.

Those who donate via Zaar can expect to receive rewards based on the amount donated, from mentions on the team’s social media pages to full corporate sponsorship campaigns.

Visitors are invited to visit the website below to make a donation or for more information about the Malta Optimist Team crowdfunding campaign.

www.zaar.com.mt/projects/2018optimistworldchampionships

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