Rowing makes waves at Diyawanna Oya
Rowing, a sport that boasts a rich history in Sri Lanka, was, until recently, catalogued among the elite sports of the country. However, the trend is now changing with the intervention of its governing body, the Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka (ARASL).
History depicts that Rowing has been a priority sport among elite schools in Sri Lanka, particularly in Colombo, and were held on the Beira Lake at the Colombo Rowing Club ( CRC), established in 1864. Since the ARASL came under its incumbent President Rohan Fernando, drastic changes have been taking place.
One of the key changes was setting up a new venue at Rajagiriya on the waters of a man-made canal on Diyawanna Oya. This allowed the ARASL to hold 2,000-metre events, according to international requirements, instead of the traditional 1,000,metres. The ARASL, with support from higher authorities, set up its headquarters on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya at Rajagiriya, which encouraged them to venture into new avenues.
"It was not a cakewalk, to see ARASL achieve much within a short time span. To be able to shift to a place close to the country's capital city, was a huge plus point. The centre has been in operation for a couple of years now, and today it's a place with daily activities," said Diyawanna Rowing Centre (DRC) Operations Manager Sithira Wickramasekara.
The DRC does not consider itself fitting to host the country's top Rowing events such as the National Championships. The ARASL has taken a step further from holding events and is a venue for practice sessions. It pioneered the Diyawanna Rowing Academy (DRA) with the motto 'Rowing for all and All for Rowing'. Currently, the DRA is more focused on training newcomers to the sport, in addition to taking the sport to the general public.
"Since the inception of the DRA, I must say that we have had very positive and encouraging feedback from many. Usually, it's the athletes from schools and clubs that flock to train here, specifically, prior to a main event. But I'm proud to say that, the ARASL's bid to popularise the sport has been a success to date, with over 50 novices registered with the DRA. They are attending training programmes on a regular basis," revealed Wickramasekara, the pioneer of Eights Rowing boats in Sri Lanka, .
The ARASL has assigned a team of qualified coaches with FISA (World Rowing Authority) certification and ARASL registration, to impart techniques of Rowing, Physical Training and Safety procedures. In addition to providing necessary training facilities to beginners, the DRA also provides coaching to advanced Rowers.
"The ARASL has understood the need to conduct it as a competitive sport, as well as for leisure and as a therapeutic exercise for physical disabilities. This is evident from the number of seniors among the 50 plus newcomers at the DRA. Rowing is a sport with the least amount of injuries, and safe to practisce from a young age. After every event held here, we are happy to note that, the Academy welcomes a new set of intakes," added Wickramasekara.
Not all those who take up Rowing and undergo training will end up at competitive level. But it surely gives some positive light to the local Rowing fraternity of active 600 athletes of both genders affiliated to 18 institutions of schools, clubs, universities and other entities. The DRC, by now, is the hub of local Rowing for many reasons, of which the Academy is one.
"Nothing comes without hard work and dedication. There are many who have worked tirelessly to attract total strangers into Rowing and, at the same time, maintain the standards and integrity of the sport. Within a couple of years, this location will be a fully-fledged centre for Rowing, with the inclusion of all its necessities. The ARASL, under the leadership of Rohan Fernando, has been doing a fine job so far, by taking the sport beyond its traditional parameters to attract the interest of the general public."
The DRC and the DRA expect to make many breakthroughs in time to come. At present, the DRA has a comprehensive training schedule for its newcomers, who first undergo an orientation period on the waters, in a boat specially for training novices. At present, the Diyawanna Oya is capable of accommodating over 100 boats at a time, with its inherent support facilities.
"As I said earlier, nothing comes without dedication and hard work. The caretaker of the DRC and the DRA, Tissa, is a livewire and an unsung hero of ARASL's recent successes. He has a rich experience of building boats and maintaining them to the highest standards, and a veritable storehouse of knowledge of the sport. He is equally enthusiastic as the rest, to see Rowing reach higher standards among local sports and an Olympic medal, which is the hope and dream behind all these developments," concluded Wickramasekara.
Tissa, the caretaker of the DRA - Pix by Amila Gamage