Paralympian track and field athlete in the F46 class standing throws category, retired Corporal of the Sri Lanka Army formerly attached to the Third Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment, Dinesh Priyantha Herath Mudiyanselage won the Bronze medal in the men’s javelin throw event at the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games Olympics held in Brazil and the silver medal for the same at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships held in England.
Herath was wounded on 2008 December 16 while at Kilinochchi during the final stages of the war when helping in the humanitarian operations and efforts that were then underway.
Following the injury sustained in battle, he retired from the Army citing medical grounds. Fellow Army officers subsequently motivated him to continue the sport by dragging him for trainings (his trainer is Pradeep Nishantha) thereby preventing him from abandoning life.
His commitment and dedication to saving the country as exemplified in the sacrifice of a limb is also manifest in the work ethic adopted by him when it comes to training for international events, where there have been instances where he has worked hard for periods up to six months during which he saw his family only on four occasions.
Herath spoke to the Nation regarding his arduous journey.
QWhat were your wartime experiences and how did you come to be involved in sports?
In 2008 while in the battlefield in Kilinochchi, I was hit by three bullets from a terrorist’s Type 56 assault rifle in the left upper limb. The injury had to be operated on and amputated. A plate is inserted in now.
Until 2012, when I took up javelin throwing, I received treatment at the Army hospital, residing in hospital for a while, obtaining treatment and then going back home, and repeating the process again. Then at a subsequent para meet, in my first year of competing, I contested in the javelin throw, discus throw and shot put events, and set national records. I am now training and getting ready for the Asian Games.
Q : What do you make of the reconciliation process underway?
A : It is good. Among the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres too there are those who were and are disabled. Through their participation at national level para games, harmony can be generated.
The media must make them aware about sports. LTTE combatants do not know about such.
The relevant authorities must go to areas such as Jaffna and Kilinochchi where the LTTE cadres live, have a look, select those from among them, and make them participate in track and field games and athletics and other sports.
Apart from sports, they should be pushed towards things that give them happiness. They have many talents including singing. They must be directed towards such, encouraged and motivated and the required mental state must be created.
Q : What is the situation faced by those who are disabled?
The situation is such that even a seat on a bus is not given to the disabled. The situation is regrettable. They must be treated as a priority. Even at hospitals and State and Governmental institutions what they want done must be given priority as otherwise they have to face hardships.
Q : How does a sportsperson ensure his/her livelihood?
One must know how to build up one’s life. The military gives one a salary, medicine and also constructs a house for one. One must know how to develop one’s life. One cannot expect everything.
There are not only those who are disabled due to wounds sustained in the war but also those who are disabled at birth. Everyone cannot be treated thus. One must know how to face the society without going astray.
Q : What is the state of affairs with regard to athletics in the country?
Athletics is not as developed as cricket. However, the most number of medals are brought to the country by athletes. In cricket, the team competes against 12 other countries. In athletics, one competes with 120 or 160 or 170 countries.
At the Asian level, there are approximately 40 countries contesting. It is good if athletics too is placed on top. The media should provide athletics with a boost.
Opportunities to compete at the international level are provided by the Ministry of Sports and not solely to those nationally ranked as number one and two but also to those ranked number three and four. The majority, over 90% of the athletes are from the tri forces and the Police.
The Ministry provides allowances to the sportsmen and sportswomen. There are no shortcomings on this front or political interference. If one shows talent and skills, one gets the opportunity.
Q : What are the attributes required to be a world class athlete?
There must be discipline. One must train. One must be committed and dedicated. One must take nutrition. One must not break rest. One has to improve. When I came in at the fourth place with victory in sight at the 2014 Asian Games held in South Korea, I too have felt and experienced defeat. I did not however let myself be affected by the loss.
I decided to improve. I took courage. I made a pact and pledge with myself that I would definitely win. I did not allow my morale to drop. I decided that I would somehow win one day.
If the sportsman or sportswoman in question is not showing improvement, the trainers must be removed as otherwise, she or he would always be in the same place and at the very same level.
The trainer need not have ill feeling towards the sportsman or sportswoman for doing so. If there is no improvement, coaches and trainers should definitely be removed.
In actuality, when one is competing at the international level, one feels the tension in one’s body. One feels the fear. This affects the athlete’s performance. This happened to me at the 2014 Asian Games. The only way to get rid of this fear is to participate at such international games. Otherwise, it is difficult. We receive the opportunity.
Q : What is the role of family and the spectators in relation to the athlete?
I have two children. One must maintain one’s family life with one’s wife and parents well. One must live happily and in harmony without causing problems. One must gain one’s family members faith in one.
What must be told to the public is that they should show some of the same interest shown towards cricket. People have cricket fever. The same is not the case when it comes to athletics. Although we have really exerted ourselves to get a medal, when we bring one, within two weeks, it is forgotten.