Anna Calleja was born in Paola on December 27, 1958 to Joseph Calleja and Rose nÃ©e Tedesco.
Describing her childhood, Anna descended into the past with a certain nostalgia. âMy childhood was fun and filled with laughter and from an early age I attended the Convent of Saint Joseph in Paola. I instantly became a fan of sports and physical activities. In fact, I was an automatic selection in various sports competitions and at that time Sister Rosita who taught physical education pushed me further and included me to represent Malta in the FISEC game. At the age of 12, I participated in the FISEC game in track and field. During those games, I watched basketball and was literally fascinated. It was Louis Borg who made me join the basketball team. It was a turning point in my sports career so I started playing basketball for different teams. But the highlight of my career has been with both MCAST and Luxol.
Speaking of education, Anna spoke about her experience in this sector. âAfter attending Saint Joseph Convent, I continued my studies at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and later at the University. I have also had extensive ongoing opportunities in physical activities and sports both locally and abroad.
âI started teaching physical education in public schools. Interest in sport has always been a part of my childhood. My mother was a football fan and she followed all the football world cups. She is still 94 years old and still watches football, especially the English Premier League.
The main sport for Calleja was basketball. But what was his career? âMy basketball career started at the age of 13, playing with a team that formed after FISEC matches in Belgium. We had formed a team called Cadettes. Many of us were all students of Saint Joseph or of the Sacred Heart. Then I moved on to play for other big teams. Like MCAST and later with Luxol and winning various leagues. It was a different kettle back then, there weren’t three indicators and the conditions were very different from what we are used to today.
Was Anna playing any other sport on a competitive or even non-competitive basis? âSport was my lifestyle, and I used to cherish the love of the game and the competition that was in my blood. Basketball was my first preference, but I played netball, soccer, and volleyball. On top of that, I even did track and field competitions. I was a national discus thrower and shot putter. It was me and Jennifer Pace. She was much better than me at throws and couldn’t beat her, but I was much better at basketball.
But what have been the good and bad times for Calleja during her career? âWinning medals abroad has always been a great experience that you cherish. Playing for the national team and representing Malta is always something you wear for life. One bad experience in particular was the fact that the motivation to keep playing and not being recognized was something that put me off. The gender difference made a difference. Women’s sport didn’t really matter that much at the time and it got me off the rails. I remember the difference in all areas. The time to train, the time to play, women were treated completely differently. In addition, the comments sent by the spectators were sometimes humiliating. ‘
Are there any special moments in Anna’s career that she still remembers and is proud of? âEvery game was important to me. I loved playing and loved giving my best. I am proud of every moment.
Calleja’s career came to an end and she entered an administrative role. âI loved teaching physical education in schools and what gave me great pride was pushing girls to become athletes and represent Malta. I used to follow those in class who needed more attention. It gave me pride to push them and make them feel included.
âI took courses in adapted coaching and adapted physical education. Later I was approached by Marian Murphy from Special Olympic to take over Special Olympics Malta. It was not easy to make Special Olympics what Special Olympics is today. I had to face all the challenges that presented themselves. There were a number of episodes that made me lose confidence. Yet for some reason I got stronger. I imagined that these athletes had to be included, that they had to have the same rights, that they had to be recognized. After all, they represented our country. What is the difference between them and the others? So I defied all the obstacles that presented themselves to me.
Anna Calleja gave an in-depth analysis of the Special Olympics field. âSpecial Olympics has grown into one of the largest organizations, providing athletic training and Olympic competitions to people with intellectual disabilities. It has grown from six athletes in 2000 to 100 in 2021. We provide year-round training in athletics, water sports, bowling, petanque, football, gymnastics, cycling, triathlon, table tennis and golf. The Young Athletes Program, MATP (Motor Adaptive Training Program). We also welcome the healthy athlete screenings and the athlete steering committee. I make sure that the athletes are the priority in everything we organize. They should be given the best possible support when it comes to representing Malta. We have individual training programs. Fitness and nutrition guidelines, guided by experts and doctors. You have to get results, so you have to give the right tools to the athletes. “
But what level of satisfaction does working with children with special needs give him? âThe satisfaction is enormous. It cannot be explained in words, it is something that you have to experience by hand. Satisfaction is not the results, nor the medals, nor the rankings. Satisfaction is the smiles you get, the hugs you get, the thanks that are always there. Respect for parents and of course the slightest improvement. It’s the biggest paycheck, the brightest light, the best rainbow – when you see them smiling and having fun. Keep in mind that not all athletes are able to compete and represent Special Olympics Malta. However, the prize awarded to these athletes, no medal can match.“
So what is the future of this sector? âI have immense faith; this sector will surely grow, and the reach will be greater. Parents are more aware. That everyone should participate in some kind of physical activity. People with disabilities need physical activity in their lives, they need to be included, they need to be included, they have equal rights and they need to be recognized. We have just opened this sector in public schools and we are working hand in hand with the Department of Physical Education in public schools. Advancing sport for people with different challenges. This program is already giving excellent results. Sports clubs and organizations need to be more open to receive and support inclusion. SportMalta is a huge supporter of Special Olympics. It also made a difference as they also believe that sport is for everyone. Also this fact that everyone and I mean everyone thinks that people with disabilities should have access and the same opportunities, even in sport.
Moving on to a more personal aspect, Calleja won the Sportswoman of the Year award in 1981. Was this the highlight of her career? âYeah, I think so. I’ve never given it so much importance. Like I said, you could feel the difference in the way the Sports Awards were presented. The highlight was always the men’s award. want to ask a question – Do you think this is still the case? ‘
And in 2017, Anna was honored by the state for her outstanding work. âYes, it was something totally different from a sports competition. I received this award thanks to all the Special Olympics athletes and their parents. Itâs the highlight of my career, I have to say. I wanted to say a lot to know that I am recognized for something that I want to advance and something that I believe in. “
But does she see a bright future for sport in Malta? âI want to see a bright future. We all have to keep pushing and keep believing. However, some policies need to change. I think Maltese sport will develop in the future and I hope we have better results. ‘
And what is Anna’s favorite food. âI should say fish. It’s healthy and above all it’s very good.
Traveling in another aspect of his life. What is Calleja’s favorite destination? âCertainly Spainâ.
And leisure activities in particular? âI like to read and listen to music. And when I have free time, I like to take a walk with my best friend (my dog) and watch a good movie.
To close this interesting interview, Anna Calleja gave a final piece of advice to the younger generation on sport in general. âYou are the next generation, make sure your voice is heard even when it comes to sports. Playing sports is fun, learning to play within the limits of the rules of a game, will give you lessons for life: Sports will definitely improve your health, give you confidence. You will explore the passion. Sport is not just for champions. Like music, it’s for everyone â.