Every time I drive past the Kumaratunga Munidasa Mawatha even if it is not a regular academic day, I instinctively turn to the big green field where I have made thousands of memories. I am not the only person who is attached to this particular spot. Thousands of UOC graduates and undergraduates will acknowledge this fact; being a sportsperson of University of Colombo has changed their lives completely.
Rumesh Balasooriya, the captain of University of Colombo Cricket team who is a fourth year marketing student from the Faculty of Management and Finance, Mindula Bulmulla, the vice-captain of University of Colombo Women’s Basketball team who is a third year law student, Upuli Edirisinghe, a third year MBBS student and a senior Rower of the University of Colombo Women’s Rowing team shared with Mora Spirit how their lives revolve around the university on a regular weekday and what it means to be a part of this great Sporting family.
On the days our team have morning practices on the grounds and when I pass the basketball court to reach the pavilion, I see a familiar face on the court dribbling the basketball and aiming for that perfect shot. Somedays I see her with her teammates and there are days I see her practicing all by herself. Making sure that there is no room for any error.
“I usually get to the University pretty early. If I have some free time, I usually go do some shooting practices and then go for lectures at 8:00 a.m.… Most of the days, we are done by 12:00 then I go for a workout. Going to the gym has become part of my routine. If I don’t have practices I’ll usually be at the gym,” says our very own Amalgamated Club Secretary Mindula Bulmulla. She is also involved in other extra activities apart from sports; I see her most of the time running around the campus to get her duties done no matter how tired she gets; she makes sure to fulfil all her responsibilities with a smile on her face. You will definitely second this if you have ever met this bubbly and cheerful personality at least once in your life.
Mindula shared with us a couple of her remarkable performances as a UOC basketball player. “The best and biggest achievement would be winning Inter-University Basketball in 2018. It was a result of sheer determination and hard work. As cliché as it is, our team defied all odds to get to the final and a reason why we stood out from the rest of the teams was the bond that we had. With five new juniors including myself, who had no prior experience representing Colombo University, our team excelled in our performance and at last we won that championship showing true colors of sportsmanship. Another achievement would be representing the University of Colombo at a tournament held in Malaysia. The exposure of going for an international tournament was something that I could have not got elsewhere. It was definitely an eye opener as to where Sri Lanka stands when compared with the rest of the Asian region”.
Playing for the University of Colombo or representing our Alma Mater at any given platform, whether it is the national or the international level, it is not an opportunity that you can let pass by. It is an occasion of pride. To see the purple and yellow flag fluttering way up high is truly what brings joy to our hearts and souls.
“There is an immense feeling of pride when you do get to represent the University team. Since a lot of local universities do not get much recognition within the basketball community, it is a great feeling to be among the handful of universities that do get this recognition... It is the best feeling that I got the chance to play the sport I love even after joining the university since I have played basketball back in my school days and I was quite passionate about it. Playing basketball was what I looked forward to at university and it is by far my most favorite thing about my university life”.
Schools are where we make our first set of friends in life. It is the social institution where we experience what friendship and teamwork mean. Coming out of this cocoon and entering university gives all of us the scope to expand our network. Over my years of being a part of the university rowing team, the people that I consider some of my closest friends are the ones I have met through the sport. As a player, you spend countless hours on practice in the field or in game situations and you will share those experiences with only a handful of people – your teammates. Below is what Mindula had to say about the bonding among her teammates. “I have seen a lot of teams at the university, but I can say that our team by far is the most bonded team. We do not have the senior-junior distinction, but we give everyone the respect they deserve. We all are crazy sometimes and have huge personalities. Our team is loud, funny, and always up for a prank. We have people coming from different backgrounds but once we step on the court, we all become one. We never hesitate to crack a joke or make fun of each other, but I know that whenever I need help, these girls will always be there to support me. I think it is our personalities that have captured the hearts of so many other teams and for that reason, our team happened to have a lot of friends in other teams. We have become super close to our boys’ team and that was not the case 3 years ago. We have forged a bond that is strong and hopefully will remain for a long time. One reason why our team is well known is that we have made friends with other university teams too. These people we meet mostly once a year only at the inter-university tournament; a small smile and a single hello goes a long way. I personally believe that these friendships are what help you grow as a person and it’s what leaves a good impression on people about you”.
Balancing sports and academics is not an easy task especially when you are an undergraduate. Mindula shared her thoughts and experiences as a third year law student who is managing both sports and academics evenly. “In each batch in our faculty, we only have a handful of people doing sports. Maybe it is because of the large syllabus that law students had to study for the year end exam and the immense amount of pressure. This lack of participation in sports also adds to the fact that most people think that if they have not done any sport in school, it is too late to try something now. One thing that cannot be stressed enough is that the level of university sports and school sports are completely different. Balancing academics with sports is not as tough as it seems. It will be a good way to relieve some stress and get a break from all the academics because doing a sport not only helps your physical health but also your mental health as well. It is also an amazing opportunity to make friends beyond your faculty and even beyond your university.”
Day or night this area of fifty acres in the heart of the city of Colombo will not go silent by cheering, words of motivation and upliftment by our very own athletes. Even when the fields are empty today due to the Pandemic, the echoes of cheers and words of motivation still resonate in the air. On the days when the sun is scorching hot, if I was able to finish my lectures at 3:00 p.m. I would walk into the Science Faculty and sit at the ‘Juice bar’ while sipping a cold beverage, I would gaze upon the green field that is right in front of me, and I will not be surprised if I see our athletes training despite the sweltering heat. Our very own Cricket Team is one of the teams that I see on the grounds around that time of the day. Rumesh Balasooriya, the Captain of the University of Colombo Cricket team is a fourth year undergraduate following a special degree program in Marketing at the Faculty of Management and Finance of the University of Colombo. He is a university colors holder at three times. This outstanding sportsperson shared his daily routine on a regular university day with us. “A typical day generally begins at around 5:30 a.m. for me. I like to plan out the day and stick to it as much as possible, leaving room for some adjustments as well. I leave home at around 6.30 a.m. hoping to get to the university at around 8 a.m. I normally review the subject matter we discussed that day before practices. We normally have practices at 2:30 p.m. We like to call it ends at 5:45 p.m.” Practicing under the burning sun is not at all an excuse to change their practice hours for these bunch of enthusiastic cricketers. I believe these hours of pure commitment and hard work had paid off. The University of Colombo cricket team made it into the semifinals of the division 2 tournament organized by the Western Province Cricket Association. “It was an honor to be the captain of this side since this hasn't been achieved before. I was also the leading wicket taker in the tournament aforementioned”.
Going down the memory lane Rumesh recalled some of his memorable moments as a UOC Cricketer. “It has been a wonderful journey so far as a UOC cricketer and I'm looking forward to making some more good memories this season as well. It is difficult to single out any experience in this case. But winning the inter university cricket championship in 2018 after 4 years has definitely been one of the most memorable experiences as a UOC cricketer. We have faced the University of Moratuwa in the finals and it was a great feeling to be crowned as champions. Also, reaching the semifinals of the division 2 season this year was also one of the best experiences as this had not been achieved before by our team”.
He also emphasized how important it is to work in unity and to strengthen the bonding with his teammates. As players of a team sport, they will always have a common goal to work upon. “The university cricket team is made up of undergraduates from different faculties. I, myself am from the faculty of management and finance while my deputy is from the faculty of science. We have players who have played for a few years as well as freshers in our squad. Since we have played quite a lot of matches this season so far, as we always do prior to inter university matches, there is a good understanding between players in the team. Everyone helps each other, knows areas of strengths and weaknesses of other players, and have got together as a team very well. The team visited Thailand for an invitational 3 match series organized by the cricket association of Thailand in February. This also helped to enforce the bond we have as a team. Cricket is a gentleman's game; we always try to play with the spirit of the game. This has helped us to bond with our opposition teams and create a good atmosphere both on and off the field”.
Being in the final years of academics and captaining a university team is not a piece of cake. There are so many responsibilities that you must tackle every day. “I have realized that taking part in sports and other activities have increased my focus and efficiency when concentrating on my studies. It helps keep my body as well as my mind fit and ready to tackle various challenges”.
Our University Sports Ground never goes deserted at any time of the year. It is because this particular sport at our University does not have an off season. If you don’t see this bunch of athletes at the Grounds or at the Gym for two straight days, well then, they’ll probably be at a Regatta.
Upuli Edirisinghe, a third year Medical student and a senior Rower of the University Rowing crew is one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to sheer commitment and dedication towards what she loves the most. “I wake up around 4.30-5. Get ready and come for practice. I usually have to get back by 8 or even earlier sometimes therefore, I always have to leave around 7.30 a.m. It is a marathon to get to the ward on time. Clinicals last for four hours, and during this time we are mostly standing so at the end of the clinical hours which is around 12 p.m. I am either half dead or half asleep. Lunch break is from 12-1p.m. when I am too tired to eat. And then lectures continue till 4.15 or 5.15 in the evening. If we have to go for a workout, I'd usually go after lectures”. As one of her crewmates, no matter how early I turn up for the practices, Upuli is the first face I see every morning. No matter how hectic her timetable is as a medical student, she is one of the most dedicated rowers I have seen in my rowing life. I would say her hard work and perseverance has definitely paid off at the inter university and even at the national level.
When I asked about her most outstanding achievements she replied, “Everything up to now feels like an outstanding achievement to me because I know now that I can do so many things that I have never even dreamt of doing…. All the inter university races I rowed especially in the first year when it was all new and scary, and then the second year when there was more responsibility on our shoulders... I think I will remember all the races as achievements because each has its own backstory of how it became a reality”.
Harking back to some of her favorite days spent with the crew she said “I was looking at old pictures and I could not imagine that I have done so many things as a part of University of Colombo Rowing Crew. Maybe all the times we won by milliseconds (the four at inter-university 2018 and the pair this year at nationals) …even the times I lost are also my precious moments. Truth is that I consider every memory as an unforgettable incident... Even practice days sitting on those steps and talking, rowing in Malaysia, the last few days rowing the pair with Che when I felt for the first time like the boat was flying, every bit of them are precious memories to me. Those things made me realize this was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins the game but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” When you are part of a team there is nothing more important than the bonding you build your teammates. As Mindula and Rumesh shared how in Basketball and Cricket, the team spirit is shown, Upuli too shares how strongly her crew bonds under one flag. “It is the fact that I'm representing my university and my crew that matters more to me regardless of which university. I don't know about other sports but in rowing, your crew know how hard you have to work for it more than anyone else so it's more about not letting them down and holding that name high.”
Even though there is separation gender-wise, the men’s and women’s crews share a strong connection. “I mostly don't get to bond with the boys' crew because I have to run as soon as I finish my boat practices but at the times I had to stay for the practice alone in the evening, if the boys' crew is there, they will always be so supportive. We are one whole family even though we don't do everything together. And you feel like you also won when they win something. The girls' crew is my biggest support system in the university. It is like a family, a bunch of people whom you can rely on and talk to about anything. I would not be doing any of this if not for them.”
When things don’t go according to your plans, giving up is easy. Balancing Rowing and academics is indeed an uphill battle, yet if you have a great support system to look up to, you will definitely want to continue this beautiful sport. What is so special about being a part of any UOC team is that your support system comes within your team. No matter how stressful your teammates are, while carefully listening to your worries, they will always have some solution to reduce your stress and lift your burden. So is for Upuli. “I have a lot of back up. Mostly from my sister who keeps telling me that it isn't impossible and my parents who eventually realized I wasn't going to let this go. And also, my crew and all my captains with a special mention for my first captain who is one of the biggest reasons for where I am now. When you got people, who are believing in you, eventually you start to believe in yourself more. Balancing may be hard but it is not impossible. And it is all worth it because this gives you so many friends and memories that doing only academics won't give. Joining a sport definitely isn't something you will regret.”
I am pretty sure all the athletes representing UOC can relate their stories to what Mindula, Rumesh and Upuli have shared. This is just an example of how our daily lives revolve around the university and how much it means to represent our Alma Mater. We athletes may have different viewpoints on specific matters. These ideas might contradict with other ideas of the team, but we have the power to leave everything aside and come together as one to achieve the final goal which is to make the University of Colombo proud. If that big sports field in front of the College house could talk, she would testify the sheer determination, commitment, and the spirit of sports these athletes hold. She would tell the world the amount of blood, tears and sweat these bunch of fighters shed each and every day to see her purple and yellow flag unfurled in the wind.