Karate girl wins bronze mortgaging family land | Sunday Observer

Karate girl wins bronze mortgaging family land

Vihangi Sashenka(left) with her mother
Vihangi Sashenka(left) with her mother

Vihangi Sashenka has dreams of becoming the first woman to represent Sri Lanka in karate when the sport makes its debut at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Her dreams would have been stillborn if not for the sacrifice her parents made – mortgaging a small piece of land – so that their teenage daughter could make the trip to Okinawa, Japan for the Asian Junior Karate Tournament last month.

In Okinawa, Vihangi won a bronze medal in the 16-17years age group in Kata – where competitors are judged on the speed and power of their techniques – capping a fine performance from the Sri Lankan squad which also won a bronze in the girls 14-17 years team Kata event.

It was the first time Sri Lanka had finished with two medals at this competition, a hothouse for up-and-coming talent in Asia.Apart from setting alight a dream in the heart of this little slip of a girl from Ganemulla, it has also sparked interest among the local karate community who have hopes that her performance could throw a new light on the sport in Sri Lanka.

“We get very little support from the government(Sports Ministry). It is up to our athletes to find the money so that they can take part in overseas competition. If Vihangi’s parents had not mortgaged their property, she would not have been able to go. This is the unfortunate situation karate is facing in Sri Lanka,” says Sisira Kumara, president of the Sri Lanka Karate-Do Federation.

Vihangi’s dad Sunil Jayaratne used to work at the Mahaweli Board but gave it up to become a trishaw driver. Her mother Manjula is a housewife. They both decided that it was worth every cent to send their daughter to pursue her dreams.

“We believe in her and knew she would do the country proud,” says Sunil. “We needed three-and-a-half lakhs and we managed to raise300,000 rupees by mortgaging our land. It was worth it, to see her win a medal and lift her confidence.”

The balance 50,000 rupees came from her school –Ratnawali Balika Vidyalaya – which also believed in her. “I started karate when I was five. My brother and I used to fight a lot and I suppose that is why I took up the sport,” smiles Vihangi. “I’m so proud to have won a medal for Sri Lanka and I hope this is the start of something better.”

Her coach Lakshman Saparamadu believes Vihangi has the dedication and talent to bring further glory to Sri Lanka. An Asian-qualified karate referee, Saparamadu is also the vice-president of the Sri Lanka Karate-Do Federation.

“She is very keen and dedicated. We used to train late into the night on weekdays, and despite her studies she never complained.She is determined and is very courageous,” describes Saparamadu.

The inclusion of karate at the 2020 Games – one of five new Olympic sports with the others being baseball/softball, skateboard,sports climbing and surfing – is a shot in the arm for the martial arts community in Sri Lanka.

There are around 400 clubs island-wide with perhaps200,000 schoolchildren learning and taking part in the sport. Getting Olympic recognition is a boost and there is hope that it will generate more interest especially among the corporate sector.

“Unfortunately sports like karate get very little exposure. Most school kids play cricket or rugby but it is in sports like this that we as a nation can win medals at multi-sports events like the South Asian Games and the Asian Games,” points out Maxwell de Silva, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka.

De Silva and the NOC now hopes to get Vihangi and other young karatekas to undergo training programmes overseas with an eye on the South Asian Games in Katmandu in March 2019.

“The best countries to learn and develop will be Japan or Iran, both powerhouses in karate,” says Saparamadu. Moves are underfoot to see if Vihangi and company –the other three girls who won a bronze in the team event are Thulani Perera of St. Anne’s Balika Vidyalaya, Wattala, Imasha Dulanjalee of Karunaratne Buddhist Vidyalaya, Mattumagala and L. Sanjana of St. Joseph’s Girls College, Nugegoda –can hone their skills under foreign coaches.

“Most schoolchildren who take up sports like karate come from poor backgrounds. They face a lot of difficulties and we must do everything we can to try and help them,” De Silva adds.

There has been a start. For her bronze medal winning performance, Vihangi has received a small house in Angulana from the government. She hopes she can continue to bring glory to Sri Lanka and perhaps emulate RJ Edward who won Sri Lanka’s only medal (a bronze) at the Asian Games(2006 Busan).

“I will not be ready for the next Asian Games (this August in Jakarta) but hopefully if I get the support, be in the hunt for a medal at the South Asian Games next year and then try and qualify for the Olympic Games in 2020,” says Vihangi.

A bright student, aiming to ace her A-Levels where she is studying technology with as eye on becoming an aircraft engineer,Vihangi does have to fight with her brother these days. He knows she is a champion at karate.