Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)
Sri Lanka’s ‘Bubka’ aims to imbibe self-belief in athletes
Ruwan Perera could be considered Sri Lanka’s most successful pole vaulter, having won three South Asian Games (SAG) gold medals and winning the national championships for a record 23 times consecutively. To be the undisputed champion for 23 times was no easy task and Perera revealed how he achieved this phenomenal feat.
The great revolution of his life occurred after getting involved in sports from a young age and reaping the results of it, being the Head of Sports and Physical Education at the Sussex Colle ge Network.
"When I first started sports I was nobody. Everything I gained and all what I have today, was achieved from the influence of sports," said Perera, who leads a successful life with his wife Dr. Vajeesha Dissanayake and two children.
Perera revealed how he broke the then three-decade old South Asian Federation (SAF) Games record in 1999. It was a miraculous feat as he had never cleared that benchmark in his life.
"It was an unreachable benchmark for a Sri Lankan jumper. People thought so. Actually it was one metre higher than my then personal best," said Perera.
The then SAF record was 4.78 metres set by India’s Vijayapal Singh while 18-yearold Perera’s best leap was 3.80 metres in 1990.
"While engaging in sports, a student can improve his or her stamina and endurance. Strength, flexibility, speed and stamina have to be mastered as a human being to face any challenge throughout the life journey," Perera said.
Perera’s much anticipated SAF record was accomplished after he dedicated and committed for more than 13 years. At the age of 18, Perera joined the Sri Lanka national pool under the renowned athletic coach during Sri Lanka’s golden years, the late Derwin Perera.
While practising at Torrington grounds, Perera’s target and aim was the SAF Games record. In addition to that he also wanted to i mpress young Va jeesha Dissanayake, a brilliant hurdler, and to win her heart.
"If you have the will and commitment, your goals are achievable. If you love the sport and if you have the hunger to win, it is the most important thing in your sporting career. Mental barrier is the most powerful point you should break to achieve what you think," said Perera, who accomplished the SAF Games pole vault record in 1999 with a stunning leap of 4.88 metres.
"While practising in Torrington grounds, the then SAF record looked like an uphill task for a Sri Lankan, as it was more than one metre higher than the existing national record. After my usual practice sessions at Torrington grounds, I set the then SAF record of 4.78m and practised mentally to break the barrier about half an hour every day after my usual practice sessions," he said.
"Friends cracked jokes saying that you should first break the national record before aiming beyond," he recalled. "During the SAF Games, I felt that I am the champion even though my best attempt was 4.60 metres. Mentally I was the champion."
"It was difficult to have a pole which suited to my height during my school days at Kadawatha Vidyalaya at the Under-17 level. Then I moved to St. Joseph’s College, Darley Road to have a suitable pole to improve my standard and also there was a national pole vaulter produced by St. Joseph’s," he said.
During the national games, Perera's aim was to compete with the last three vaulters in the final attempt. He would skip initial attempts because he wanted to feel the cheers and the attention of the spectators in the final attempt.
"I entered the last attempt with the finalists. So, spectators cheered. Some would chant 'come on Bubka, come on Bubka', putting me alongside the famous Ukrainian pole vaulter. I was thrilled and excited and cleared the National Championship record easily," Perera said on clearing his first hurdle.
After leaving school, Perera joined Sri Lanka Army in 1990 and continued training with the national pool under the late Derwin Perera. Ruwan Perera also found his beloved fiancée Vajeesha Dissanayake, a brilliant hurdler who competed alongside Sriyani Kulawansa, through sport. Dissanayake, a past student of Visakha Vidyalaya, entered the Medical Faculty of the University of Colombo, which resulted in ending her sporting career.
"I was able to study in Manchester University in
England after I was offered a scholarship about Physiotherapy, Psychology and Physical Education for three and a half years.For me, sports is the world’s most powerful influence for anyone’s success in life," Perera explained.
Representing Sri Lanka at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, Perera finished sixth in pole vault in the whole of Asia. Apart from that, Perera clinched gold medals at the Thailand Open, Singapore Open, Malaysian Open, Indonesian Open and Philippine Open Championships representing the country.
After graduating from the Manchester University in the United Kingdom, and finishing his career in sports, Perera was involved in a few coaching stints. He was instrumental in nurturing former women’s pole vault record holder Lakrani Perera, one of the few athletes Perera coached. His vast amount of experience and great enthusiasm, made him a great coach for many athletes of the country.
For the past seven years, Perera served as the Head of Sports at the Sussex College Network, Sri Lanka’s largest international school chain with 20 colleges islandwide. At Sussex, Perera has been grooming the budding athletes of the institution including the champion junior swimmer Pinsara Mahima, who has already set two junior Age Group Sri Lanka records.
"Sports is a great leveller. It can improve the strength, speed, endurance and flexibility. These are the basic aspects developed in any athlete. It makes the individual smarter, allowing the person to make quick and sensible decisions. It also helps them to learn about flexibility while working with a team. All these experiences gained through sports, can be applied in the society with ease," explained Perera, who is more involved in grooming the next generation of athletes for the country.