ST Athlete of the Year: Kitefoiler Maximilian Maeder rises above and beyond

From now till April 22, ST will honour outstanding Singaporeans who are nominees for the 2021 ST Athlete of the Year award. They defied the odds, injuries and the pandemic to chase their sporting dreams, setting new standards of excellence for others to follow.

Maximilian Maeder became the men's world No. 1 in his event for the first time last September, ahead of 149 competitors from over 20 nations. PHOTO: NORQAIN

SINGAPORE - For someone who spends most of his time outside Singapore, kitefoiler Maximilian Maeder is very clear about how he likes his curry puffs. His favourite snack has to be bigger than average, over-stuffed with a spicy filling of curry and soft potatoes and preferably homemade.

Constant travelling as an athlete means he does not eat them as often as he would like, so he found a workable solution. He learnt to make the snack from his mother Hwee Keng in 2020, but admitted his are not perfect.

"Simple to learn, difficult to master," remarked the 15-year-old, who can eat 10 to 12 curry puffs over two days.

It is this same determination that Maximilian carries into his sport, which allowed him to have a breakthrough 2021, when he won two youth world championships in July and December, and the Formula Kite European Championships in September.

Maximilian, who is homeschooled, also became the men's world No. 1 in his event for the first time last September, ahead of 149 competitors from over 20 nations.

All this serves as motivation for him as he continues his upward trajectory. His latest title was at the 2022 Formula Kite Asia Pacific Championships last month in Thailand.

He said: "I just hope to continue on this path that I'm on and keep putting in the work needed. I also want to inspire others and share the success I have with the people who have helped me."

For his accomplishments, the Singaporean has been nominated for The Straits Times Athlete of the Year, an award backed by 100Plus.

Maximilian, who lives in St Gallen in Switzerland with his Swiss father, Singaporean mother and two younger brothers, said: "It's an honour to be nominated alongside other Singapore athletes who are doing so well. It goes to show that you shouldn't let anything hold you back and take things as positively as you can. Anything is possible if you work hard enough."

In kite foiling, an athlete rides on a board and controls a kite as he or she is propelled across the water. A hydrofoil extends below the board, enabling the athlete to surf above the surface of the water.

After picking up the sport aged 10, he went on his first overseas race alone three years later in Mexico, flying from Switzerland with stops in San Francisco and Mexico City. He now trains mainly in Croatia and competes worldwide.

While most might marvel at a teenager fending for himself abroad, Maximilian does not think it is anything exceptional.

He said: "It's the norm for me. Take a crude example, if you have kids who grew up being given everything they ask for, they will always expect that and won't know that life doesn't go your way sometimes.

"You would think that's appalling, how they believe everything should go their way, but they believe it's normal. I grew up with my parents teaching me to think for myself and do things on my own so it was just business as usual for me.

Maximilian Maeder clinched the World Sailing Youth (Under-19) World Championships men's Formula Kite title in Oman. PHOTO: LLOYD IMAGES/OMAN SAIL

"I want people to know that you don't need to wait till a certain age to be successful. I'm not the only one in my teens up on the world stage. This shows that sport is constantly evolving and different approaches all work so there are different types of athletes."

His parents are also not surprised by how mature and mentally tough he is. They do not watch all his races in person or via livestream but talk to him almost every day.

Hwee Keng, who is on the board of Wakatobi Dive Resort in Indonesia, said: "He wanted to do all these things, that's why he had to be independent from a young age. I'm not going to spoon feed him because I don't have these ambitions for him, he has them for himself so he has to work for it.

"But we're always talking to him and he knows he can always turn to us whenever he needs help."

The couple are proud of their eldest child but also make sure to not pile any pressure on him, with Hwee Keng pointing out that Maximilian gives himself enough pressure.

The 49-year-old said: "What's more important is trying to help him find his own way, rather than tell him what to do."

Maximilian Maeder’s world title in Oman concludes a stellar year in which he also won the Formula Kite Youth (U19) World Championships and European Championships. PHOTO: LLOYD IMAGES/OMAN SAIL

His father Valentin, 58, an entrepreneur, added: "He knows how the whole mental thing in sport works so he doesn't need us, he's mature enough to develop his own models that work for him.

"Win or lose, he's still the same Max to me. What we point out to him is that as he gets a bigger platform, he can add significance to what he's doing by inspiring people and making contributions by giving back."

His world ranking (now third) is another number Maximilian is not bothered by as he prepares for his ultimate goal of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics, where the event will make its Olympic debut.

And his stellar 2021 has given him confidence that he can achieve more.

He said: "(2021) is a statement telling myself that I have the capability to do it. It also opens up the Asian scene a bit to say Asia is here too and Singapore is leading it.

"Hopefully, we can help bring more people into the sport and inspire young ones, especially Singaporeans, to try it."

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