Spotlight On…Ben Mifsud
Ben Mifsud spent his childhood years living in Marsaxlokk and now resides in Mellieha. A father of a 6-six year old daughter, Ben is proud of attaining his lifetime achievement of becoming an athlete and loosing 40 kilograms of weight in a year.
Although my childhood aspiration was to become an engineer, I found myself working for 15 years in accounts and consequently I qualified as an accountant through the ACCA route in 2012. I also hold a diploma in management by the University of Malta. Very recently, I have joined Steel Structures Company Limited as a CFO whereas before I held the position of accountant with another leading company in the construction industry, Attard Bros. Company Limited.
2013 proofed to be a notable year for me not just because of my career achievements but most importantly because I have managed to attain my lifetime achievement of becoming an athlete and most of all lose 40 kilograms. Funnily enough the idea to start dieting came to mind while having a pint of beer and some appetizers in a bar. My companions did not believe me and thought that it’s the alcohol that is doing the talking. Having finished my ACCA studies in December 2012 and following the festive season, I set out to achieve this next challenge in my life.
I have been overweight for as long as I can remember. I was born to a typical Maltese family and was brought up with loads of love, abundance of food, and lack of physical training. I was happy, but deep down I always wanted to be different. I had attempted dieting on several occasions, which were not successful. Since my teenage years, I had promised myself to reward myself with a cool motorbike if I’ll manage to weigh under 80kg.
The difference with my last dieting attempt was that I got involved in sports with the assistance of a professional coach and a nutritionist. The journey started at 120kg and my objective was to loose 40kg in a year’s time. Furthermore, realising that a couple of friends completed the half-marathon (21 km), I aspired to complete the following year’s half-marathon under the two hours. I wrote these two goals on a piece of cardboard and stuck them at the back of my wardrobe door, so I would see them every morning when I took my office shirt off the hanger.
It all started when I approached a professional nutritionist. I made it a point to pay a number of meetings in advance to keep myself committed. I believe that this approach made all the difference and would highly recommend it to others rather than relying on friend’s dos and don’ts.
I kept a log on a daily basis, logging all the food and water consumed, exercise carried out and my daily weight. This log allowed the nutritionist to keep tabs and allowed me to remain disciplined. I learnt to measure my food portions and to eat more healthily. It turned out that one of my staple foods, bread, was also one of my worst enemies and it was very difficult for me to get it out of my system. Before embarking on this diet I used to go to the village square for a “hobza” or perhaps a plate of pasta for lunchtime. It was hard and frustrating to get it out from my routine and instead prepare boiled vegetables in the evenings for lunch.
After my weight fell below the three digit mark I was able to start running. Several people bring up the excuse that they can only walk and are unable to run but keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. For me it was easy to switch from walking to running. I started by doing intervals of five minutes walking and one minute running. Gradually the running intervals start increasing and surpassed the walking intervals. The trick of getting physical improvements is to constantly strive to get out from your comfort zone. If you feel reasonable relaxed after a regular walk make sure that the day after you either increase your speed or distance.
In midsummer I managed to run up to 10km which for me was a great achievement especially when considering that my initial exercise regime consisted of a 5 km walk. I was introduced to a triathlete coach, Fabio Spiteri, who gladly accepted to assist me in reaching my goal of participating in the February 2014 half marathon. Soon I participated in my first race – a 10km race in Zebbug – which surprisingly enough I managed to complete in 57 minutes. Some more races followed and results were improving and with them my motivation increased.
Some of my friends were intrigued by my initiative. They even tried to emulate it but eventually gave up. I think that this happened because they lacked the determination and sheer will power that kept me going. Some friends even had the audacity to suggest going for a snack instead of exercising.
I won’t lie. It is very hard to go against your habitual lifestyle, like staying in on a Saturday night because of scheduled training or a race on the Sunday. Indeed the most popular excuse is that our professional job does not allow time for physical training. It is true that after a hard day at the office one can easily come up with an excuse of being too tired or that he does not feel like moving but I found out that this was nonsensical and it was just mental fatigue. After a whole day sitting down the best relief started being running. True, good time management is not an easy thing to achieve, but I found that assigning a priority to my daily chores and habits helped.
The support I had from my teammates was also key. I would highly recommend to look for friends that share the same interests. Such change in lifestyle will bring change in the people around you. My advice is let go things that are not in line with your goals and look for habits that leave you comfortable within your plan.
I am not a fanatic of gym training. This does not mean indoor training or any other training is not beneficial. It is a matter of taste. Anything that pulls you out from the couch or the office chair is beneficial. I have been told by my coach that “being at the starting line you are already considered as a winner, other people right now are on the couch watching TV.”
I highly encourage the employers’ involvement in promoting physical fitness amongst their employees, they will be reaping the dividends soon enough. The management of Attard Bros., allowed me to have a flexible work time system. They also agreed to allow me a showering facility at the office so that I could easily juggle with training, be it in the morning, during break or after work.
Last December, I participated in the Mdina to Spinola race, which is considered as the precursor to the half marathon. I did well and my coach gauged that I could do the half marathon in 1 hour and 45 minutes, which I thought was too optimistic. Most importantly I reached my weight goal of being under 80kg!
As days rolled by the Half Marathon drew closer I felt more like being on the eve of an ACCA exam. I considered the race as the judgement of what I have been striving for. Unfortunately the excitement made it hard for me to sleep properly. The race was very exciting. I enjoyed every minute and every metre. The original plan was that I do the 21km under 2 hours, my coach anticipated that I would do it 15 minutes less and finally I managed to cross the finish line at 1 hour and 40 minutes. It felt like the most victorious moment of my life. After that I participated in another Half Marathon in Gozo, which in my personal opinion is more stimulating and challenging with all the uphill challenges amongst the beautiful countryside.
Following that I did another personal challenge that I have been dreaming of. I ran from Cirkewwa to Delimara point covering a distance of 37.4km and 540 meters uphill altitude (approximately going up from Ghadira to Mellieha for five times). I set out on my own at the break of dawn and arrived in Marsaxlokk 3 hours 33 minutes to the warm embrace of my parents.
I would like to note that I had no need of expensive fancy weight loss programs or nutrition supplements. I approached professional persons that offer their service with passion. Having a challenge that inspires me is what keeps me going. My advice is that whatever you task yourself to achieve must be described by clear goals, determination and patience, because results may take long to materialize.
As for the future, I look forward to other challenges like competing in a half marathon abroad and possible also the full marathon. I feel reassured that I managed to achieve an optimal work-life balance to do what is vital to keep both physically and mentally healthy. Prove to this is my recent career advancement.
Today I no longer feel the need of a motorbike. Instead in the near future I would buy a bicycle and start competing as a triathlete. This summer I want to start swimming. Although some time ago this could sound very strange to the people who know me, today it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Yes, one sports discipline is not enough!