Beyond Abilities: The story of Sri Lanka's first female Paralympian

Beyond Abilities: The story of Sri Lanka's first female Paralympian

Sri Lanka is a small country, but throughout all these years we have produced a lot of amazing sportsmen and sportswomen who put our country on the map of sports. While most of the attention goes to the abled athletes, there are many differently abled sportsmen and sportswomen who have beaten all odds and excelled at their sport. But the attention given to these differently abled athletes is inadequate. That’s why we at Moraspirit are launching “Beyond Abilities”: a series of articles dedicated to former Paralympic athletes in Sri Lanka.

For the initial article of this series, we interviewed a well decorated para-athlete who had brought prestige our motherland numerous times. Indumathi Karunathilaka has bagged several medals in international athletics. She was planning to represent Sri Lanka in the 2020 Summer Paralympics, which was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While getting ready of next year, she took time out of her schedule to divulge her story with us.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

I’m L. P. G. Amara Indumathi Karunathilaka. I was born in Polhenagama, a village in the Monaragala district. I was born without the forearm of my left hand. I have my mother, father, one elder sister, two younger sisters and a younger brother in my family. My father passed away, and is no longer with us.

I’m married and currently living in Kuliyapitiya. I participated in the Paralympic Games in 2012 and 2016. I was the first woman to represent Sri Lanka in the Paralympic Games.

 What made you choose athletics?

My school is Mariarawa Maha Vidyalaya in Monaragala. My father got me started in athletics since my school days. So I started athletics in my school, and I was competing with nondisabled athletes at the time.

Give us a summary of some of your achievements.

I have won 13 international medals from 2006 to 2018. I won Bronze medals in Asian Paralympic Games in 2006 and 2010 for the 100m events but in 2012 I did better as I won 3 Gold Medals in 100m,200m and long jump events. In 2018 I won Silver Medals in these events. I have won 3 presidential medals as The Best Female Para Athlete in the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Back in 2018, while I was getting ready for the Asian Para Athletic Games, I injured my leg while I was practicing at Torrington Ground. After getting 10 stitches on my leg, I was told to rest for 25 days. I was lost on what I should do. It was going to be my last time participating in the Asian Para Athletic Games, and my next chance would be after 4 years.

But I didn’t let myself down. I was determined to win a medal, even if it meant I had to carry my own leg. With all the determination and dedication, I was able to win the silver medal in long jump at the Asian Para Athletic Games held in Indonesia. I think that was the biggest challenge I faced in my sports career, and I overcame it with my determination.

What is your opinion on how people see differently abled athletes? How would you like it to change?

Para athletes in Sri Lanka aren’t given the same attention other countries give theirs. Most people look at para athletes with low assessment and disbelief. Sports officials should pay more attention towards this to develop the talents of para athletes.

Do you think that more support is needed for para athletes and in what aspects can it be improved?

Absolutely. There are a lot of differently abled people in Sri Lanka. Sports officials should support them to come forward and improve their talents. Believe in them even from a young age. Or else there won’t be many more para athletes to pass the torch when we retire from sports.

What do you think your most memorable achievement is?

In the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, I was able to finish 5th in the 400m event. As athletes from all over the world participated, I am very proud of this achievement.

Who has been your pillar of strength?

My loving mother, father, my husband, my siblings, my trainers and MAS Holdings and basically everyone who helped me in my sports career.

What is your goal for next year?

My goal is to participate in the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo and win a medal. I will be retiring from sports after that.

What message do you want to give out to University students and sports players who are differently abled?

I did not give up on my life because I didn’t have my hand. My determination helped me succeed and achieve my goals. You too can overcome any challenge that comes your way. Nothing is impossible. Your determination and dedication will help you rise up and reach your goals.

Let that be an inspiration to all differently abled kids and adults in the country. With your determination and work ethic, you can beat the odds and achieve your goals. What Indumathi has been able to accomplish is absolutely impressive. We thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her story.

 There’s a myriad of great para-athletes in Sri Lanka who haven’t been given the attention they deserve. Let’s meet in another such athlete in the next “Beyond Abilities” article.

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