04.03.2022 18:00

Atleti Polimi - Francesco Tomaselli

Interview with the Para-Archery champion, Management Engineering student at Politecnico di Milano

Francesco Tomaselli, born 20 years ago in Sava in the province of Taranto, is a Paralympic archery champion and in his second year studying Management Engineering at Politecnico di Milano. He is the protagonist of the new episode of Atleti Polimi and we met him at the refurbished Giuriati Sports Centre for this interview.

Hi Francesco, how did you first come into contact with this sport?

It all started when I was nine and in my fifth year at elementary school. They organised an archery course a school and obviously everyone wanted to take part. My parents were perplexed as to whether I do actually do this kind of sport due to my tetraplegia. Despite their misgivings, they took me to the presentation meeting.

And, much to their surprise, I was able to take part in the course like all my friends. The only difference was that the instructor got me a slightly smaller bow,, but apart from that it was a wonderful experience, ending in a competition and a certificate.

And as we all know, that was by no means the end of your sporting career…

Exactly. It was 2012 and the Paralympic Games were held in the summer in London. After this initial experience, I started to follow them enthusiastically and that was when I realised just how many people in wheelchairs did sport. I mainly watched the archery, which I had fallen in love with by then.

And that summer too, an archer was chosen as the Italian flag bearer. His name was Oscar De Pellegrin, who went on to win the umpteenth gold medal in London. On an impulse I switched on the computer, found his contact details and wrote him an email, congratulating him and telling him about my new passion.

At that point, even my parents who have always fully supported my choices, bought me my first archery gear and sorted out my first lessons. From the happy expression on my face each time I went, it was obvious that this was my destiny.

What happened to that email?

One afternoon, I was studying at home when the phone rang. My mother took the call. “It’s somebody called Oscar...” It wasn’t just “somebody” it was him, my “idol”, who had read my mail and wanted to know how my lessons were going. It was so exciting and the start of a wonderful friendship.

At the time, Oscar was still an athlete, but had decided to retire, and soon afterwards he would become a federation member. He was developing “Arco senza barriere” (Archery without barriers), a pilot project for the stable of youngsters aspiring to the national team.

So you continued to train, dreaming of joining the national team?

Yes. My category is W1 compound, which means competing with a hunting bow fitted with pulleys that help to create the force-draw relation.

Then came the first call-up. 2014 saw the first of the junior meets, with the first transfers: four juniors joined the senior national team, and one of them was me. Since then, I have competed in two Italian championships a year, and in all the interregional events. It is important to enter as many competitions as possible, so that you get used to the pressure.

The very first meet is a very important experience: by the time we returned we had become a single team, thanks to the rapport created. I was really pleased, also because I made a good impression on my team mates.

So, Italy became the first country in Europe to have a junior national team. In June 2019 I was an official reserve for the world championships. In July I competed in the European Cup, which is held over three stages. And the calendar is getting more and more busy: just think, in 2022 I’m going on 5 or 6 transfers.

The last milestone that made me very happy are the results of the last Italian indoor championships at the end of January: I achieved scores equal to those who started for the last world championship in Dubai. I am therefore very confident in the next races for which they will choose me to represent the national team.

What does sport mean to you? What do you think it has taught you?

Sport is extraordinarily important in my life.

To be honest, before I started doing sport I hadn’t yet really completely accepted my physical condition. After I discovered archery, I realised that you can move ahead even on four wheels, anywhere and anyway, and achieve great things.

I made the most of this new awareness to also gain more autonomy in my private life. Before then, my parents helped me with so many aspects of my everyday life. Today, I live alone in Milan and it is precisely thanks to archery that I have physically and mentally managed to do this.

Another huge characteristic of archery is its inclusivity. We all compete quite happily together, regardless of disability. Not by chance was it the first Paralympic sport to be invented.

Francesco Tomaselli at Giuriati Sports Center
Francesco Tomaselli at the 2022 Italian Indoor Championships in Macerata
Francesco Tomaselli at Giuriati Sports Center
Francesco Tomaselli in Italy jersey
Francesco Tomaselli at Giuriati Sports Center
Francesco Tomaselli at the 2022 Italian Indoor Championships in Macerata
Francesco Tomaselli at Giuriati Sports Center
Francesco Tomaselli at Giuriati Sports Center

Why did you choose to study Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering? And why at Politecnico di Milano?

I have wanted to be an engineer since I was little. The Poli has always seemed to me to be highly dynamic and therefore the best place to start my engineering studies. The combo of a university like the Politecnico and a city like Milan was what convinced me.

Are you pleased with your choice?

I have to say I am. Unfortunately, not all universities organise services dedicated to people with disabilities. At the Politecnico I found all the info I needed on the site and a dedicated office where I can even anticipate any doubts I might have.

And then the campus is designed to be accessible and when, for example, I have had problems parking, they have immediately found a solution.

We know that, despite the management courses taking place at the Bovisa campus, you often come here to train at the Giuriati...

It's true... I even saw the new Giuriati as it was born: I was very happy to have joined the opening of the renovated sports centre, together with the other athletes from Poli.

Here I am getting a really big help with my workouts. In fact, one of my biggest fears at the time of my move to Milan was that I would not find anyone willing to help me, perhaps with those pieces of equipment where I objectively need a hand. But here at Giuriati I met Alessia Verza, whom I would like to thank from the heart because from the first moment she proved to be very helpful and ready to understand what my needs were, and to help me when I need it. This is very important to me, because it makes me work towards my goals with more peace of mind.

How do you juggle sport and study?

For the moment I seem to be doing it quite well. This year it will be more difficult as I move up to the senior national team and I will have to dedicate even more time to sport.

The Dual career is helping me enormously. Many of my transfers for meets happen during exam time, but being able to organise everything without any problem thanks to this programme helps me keep calm.

Do you manage to find time to have a personal life? What are you hobbies?

I have to admit that I am concentrating a lot on study and sport, and as a result have very few free evenings. Monday evening is usually when I can chill a little. When I’m home, I really like to read newspaper articles, especially ones that give an in-depth look at technology.

What do you like about Milan?

I would never have imagined it, but I actually really like Milan, and I enjoy living in this city.

On the Italian panorama, it is a city with a forward-thinking mindset and attention to disabilities, even if there is, obviously, plenty of room for improvement: from missing slopes and some trams that are still off limits.

What are your goals and dreams for the future?

Obviously my big dream would be Paris and the 2024 games. They are putting the team together this year so... fingers crossed!

As far as my academic future goes, I would like to continue here at the Politecnico with a Magistrale (equivalent to Master of Science) in the insurance-financial sector.

Would you like to say something to our readers?

I would like to say a special hello to any children reading. I am always happy to do interviews, because it is essential that athletes raise awareness about this world with the very young. It is important that they know that with passion and commitment everyone can achieve great goals.

One of the things that moves me the most is when I hear one of them say: “I want to do what Francesco does.” Then I am truly happy that I have managed to transmit my love for what I do.

To find out about the Dual Career programme, which helps our students who practise sport at the highest level to pursue both their sporting and educational activities with confidence and success, visit the Polimi Sport website.

For 2022 Italian Indoor Championships photos: credits © Fausto Ercoli