Malia Metella retired in 2009 following an eight-year career at the highest level and an Olympic silver medal. She attended journalism before working as an independent for a few years. She lost her main client and couldn’t find any work. She was forced to return to live with her mother in Toulouse. For two years, she struggled before finally being hired by the Allianz group. She worked in many positions at Allianz before discovering what she likes. Malia is also very involved in the sport nonprofit world and very close to her family.
Tell us about your sporting career:
I started swimming in French Guiana and I joined the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education (INSEP) in 2000 at 18 years old. I participated in many international competitions from 2001 to 2009 including the Athens Olympics where I won a silver medal and the Beijing Olympics. I was a sprinter in 50 and 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly.
Did you pursue a dual-career at INSEP with sport and academics ?
Yes, this is compulsory at INSEP. I did a specialization in admin work and accounting in high school in Guiana. Then I did another specialization in Sales and got my baccalaureate. After that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I started a two-year degrees in Sales and Marketing which was offered at INSEP but I didn’t like it. I stopped and started SportCom which is the journalism program available on campus. This was in parallel to my preparation for the Beijing Olympics. I did my journalism internship at France 3 Toulouse during my second year.
When did you decide to retire from your sport?
After Beijing, I had doubts about my continuation and I shared these feelings with the SportCom program managers. At the time, they felt that high-level swimming was not compatible with journalism and they told me that I wouldn’t be able to graduate from journalism and they didn’t keep me. 2009 was my last year of swimming and I knew it. I trained much less. I participated in the world championships but I didn’t take pleasure anymore. The training had become very hard for me. I was on the verge of depression, burn out, I was almost disgusted by the sport.
What did you do right after your retirement?
I wanted to do something else and discover a different industry. A friend, former tennis player, helped me find a school of journalism. I started in October and did my last two years of journalism school right after retiring from swimming.
How was this experience?
I was in a private journalism school with people who knew nothing about swimming and who didn’t know who I was. It was perfect for me. I started a completely different life, disconnected from the world of sport and swimming. It was my choice. I was curious and wanted to discover another world.
Meeting people from different backgrounds is something you've always liked?
Yes, when I was swimming, I was already very curious. I liked to meet people with business backgrounds. These were rare experiences but I took full advantage of them because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. Exchanging with people with different experiences gave me ideas. I kept all the business cards of the people I met. I stayed in touch with some and contacted them after my retirement.
Did these contacts help you later in your reconversion?
Yes, it gave me a lot of possibilities but, be careful, you can’t miss these opportunities. You have to, not only have the curiosity to meet people, but you also have to be interested in them. And the timing is very important. Follow-up is key and must be done during your athletic career. After your retirement, you become a person like everybody else and therefore you are not so attractive anymore. It is important to establish good relationships before the end of one's career.
What did you do after your journalism school?
From time to time, I have been a TV consultant for swimming competitions and for Canal + for the London Games. After graduating, I started working as a freelancer. I had only one client and was a self-entrepreneur. My client left after London and I found myself without a job. I could not pay my bills anymore. I didn’t know what to do. I had no choice but to go back to live with my mother in Toulouse. For two years, it was very very hard. I sent a lot of resumes to my contacts and to companies but I couldn’t find anything. I didn’t limit myself to journalism and tried to find work in any industry.
How did you manage this period?
It wasn’t such a bad experience. I have always had a very good relationship with my mother so it went very well with her. She was cooking and she was not alone at home anymore. I did not ask for help from my INSEP friends because some were still competing and others were also looking for work. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my problems.
How did you figure things out?
In 2014, I had the idea to build my own swimsuit collection. I started drawing and then I went to visit a friend in Paris to help me with my collection. She was very frank and told me she could help but also that producing swimsuits wouldn’t allow me to survive. At that time, I remembered Allianz had a program in place to support top athletes. My friend knew someone who worked at Allianz so I contacted them. I passed the tests and the different stages of the recruitment process. It was expensive because, for each interview, I had to travel from Toulouse. I succeeded and I started at Allianz in wealth management. I didn’t know anything about it but I was happy to have found a job. I went back to live in Paris and started all over again.
How did you adjust to your new job?
For four months, I alternated between training and work. I had long days. I had to learn the protocols and operating systems of the company and I had homework in the evening!
What position did you start in?
I did a year in wealth management. It didn’t suit me at all. I struggled to talk to people about their personal finances. Before each customer meeting, I felt like I was going to compete! I was scared and stressed.
Have you changed positions?
Yes, they moved me to another position. I went from wealth management to social protection. It wasn’t necessarily better but I took the initiative to set up an event for very high-end clients. It worked well. I was lucky because the person who was in charge of events at headquarters left and I ended up replacing her. It was a discovery. I took care of the coordination of real estate conferences with partners and companies we sponsored. It was very formal. It lasted a year and a half and then they discontinued the position.
That’s bad luck. Did you leave Allianz after this job?
Every time I could sense a change in my position, I would begin to inquire about other jobs internally and outside the group. I have been lucky because I have always found something else. Since January, I am in the sports department at Allianz and I take care of hospitality events with the partners and network of the multidistribution. We have three networks: agents, employees and brokers and we give them tickets to sporting events which we receive through our sponsorships of sports clubs and federations.
What did you learn during your transition?
I had to question myself a lot. I had to change and not hesitate to take a different direction several times. Even if you studied a particular area, you can find an interesting job in another industry or profession. You shouldn’t hesitate to try other things.
Have you continued to play sports after the end of your career?
For three years, I didn’t do any sport. I had girlfriends who played sports for their pleasure. But for me, it was not conceivable. I completely stopped and obviously I gained weight. You do not realize it right away and when you do it's a bit late ;-).
A non-profit organization contacted me to participate in an ocean triathlon. I had to re-train for this project. I went to the pool the next day. I started swimming again. I did sports every day: jogging + swimming or swimming + weights. I told myself that I had to do lots of cardio to complete a triathlon. When I was swimming at a high level, my race lasted only 25 seconds and now I was preparing for a 25-minute race! It was recreational so still pretty fun. After the triathlon, I continued to train and I got pleasure in doing sports again. It allows me to escape and meet people.
Is it easy to play sports in Paris and with your job?
When I returned to Paris, it was difficult to continue to exercise. I did not practice regularly. A few years ago, I had a lumbago and I needed to get back into it for my health. I had to find my rhythm to be able to combine work, sport and enjoy life and my friends. I do sports in the morning. I got up half an hour earlier and I practice at home, mainly cardio training. I follow programs such as: thigh-glutes, abdo-glutes. I really try to vary so I do not get bored.
You swim ?
Well .... No !
Not at all ?
Not really. But this year, I had to swim for the Allianz internal Olympic Games. So I had to train. I practiced between noon and two. And I must say I didn’t miss the smell of chlorine! I trained for four months. It allowed me to get into a master swim team. It was pretty cool, I had no pressure. But in general it's difficult to swim in Paris. There aren’t a lot of pools.
Do you miss your teammates or being part of a group?
No, it don’t miss it at all. I made other friends.
Are you still in contact with the swimmers of your generation?
Yes. In 2015, I even prepared an alumni reunion. I tried to bring together several generations of swimmers for this event. With social media, it's also easier to keep in touch.
Are there things you miss about your sporting career?
I am able to experience with work what I experienced in my sporting career. For example, if I work hard on a project and my manager is very happy with the result then I feel the same emotions I did as an athlete and I am very proud of myself. It's not exactly the same, but it's pretty similar.
Did you suffer from an identity crisis after retiring?
Not really. I didn’t suffer from a lack of recognition and I didn’t feel pressured by time. For now, I am taking the time to develop my career. I had a first life and I know you have to be patient to develop a second life.
Do you have other interests outside of work?
I volunteer for a lot of non-profit organizations for children, against cancer and quite a lot in sports too. I am also invited to events. I was very involved in the campaign for Paris 2024. I am an ambassador for the Rugby World Cup 2023.
Are you still involved with French Guiana?
No, but I'm going back soon. It's been many years since I returned to Guiana. After my career, I organized swimming training camps there for young people. I organized everything and it was a success but unfortunately, I could not renew the project because there was no longer any funding.
Did you start your swimsuit collection?
No. I still have the catalogs. Even after starting at Allianz, I was still looking to launch my collection. I even met Laura Manaudou former agent/lawyer about it. But he told me it would be very difficult. But I still haven’t given up and I continue to talk to people about it just in case.
Will you go to Tokyo?
Yes, but I would prefer to go before the Olympics to enjoy it more. It is a country that attracts me and I would like to discover it quickly.
Do you miss travelling?
Traveling is really the positive of an athlete’s career. But I don’t miss it for the moment.
What skills did you transfer from your sporting life to your professional life?
I began to realize during my years in Sales that I had learned a lot through sport. For example, I would attend an appointment and afterwards I would realize I had forgotten to mention certain points. So, I would call the client back to make sure I covered all the key points. I think it really comes from sport. I am always looking for ways to make my meetings a success.
There are many other skills that come from sport: I take initiatives and I am often propose new ideas, I do not give up, I seek solutions and am attentive to the customer needs. You also really have to know how to bounce back. Thanks to sport you never give up.
In the life of a high level athlete, attendance at training is key even if you are sick and I follow the same rule in my professional life, I am present every day. I never ask for sick leave. I also have a lot more energy and mental strength than other people. I am able to use feedback and criticism to progress in my job and in life.
I have good people skills. I am able to chat with anyone and work with people from all walks of life. It's seems like a small skill but it allows you to have lots of contacts and it opens doors.
As an athlete, you develop an incredible range of skills but you only realize it once you start working.
Now that you have perspective, would you change the way you transitioned?
Yes completely. I could have done a lot better. I should have been more curious and ask more questions. Apart from that, I would certainly have done the same thing. For example, my journalism school has served me well and allows me to approach research or topics in a structured way.
Who supported you during your transition?
At INSEP, the topic of life after sport was never really discussed. The dual project Sport-Academics is compulsory but the transition isn’t a topic of conversation with the coaches or between athletes. A former athlete helped me find my school of journalism but that's all.
On the other hand, the dual project was very important for my stability. It allowed me to have something else besides swimming. I needed to educate myself and think of something else.
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