Indoor para rowing makes debut in Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Indoor para rowing makes debut in Sri Lanka

28 November, 2021
Action from the first ever National Indoor Para Rowing Championship
Action from the first ever National Indoor Para Rowing Championship

The Sri Lanka Para Rowing Association (SLPRA) created history by conducting the first ever National Indoor Rowing Championship at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium last weekend where para athletes displayed their skills on Ergometer rowing machines.

A unique feature of this competition was that participants competed on machines which are activated according to the movements used in water rowing covering a distance of 2,000 metres with the winners being declared on the timings achieved.

The competition was conducted under the auspices of FISA (World Rowing Association) Race Observer in accordance with international standards of indoor para rowing. Although new to Sri Lanka, indoor rowing and coastal rowing is one of the three main components of FISA apart from traditional rowing.

The inaugural National Indoor Para Rowing Championship saw the participation of more than 50 competitors who were classified into three categories based on their disability. The categories were PR1 (for people who can only play with their arms and shoulders), PR2 (for people who can play with their arms, shoulders and trunk) and PR3 (for people who can play with their arms, shoulders, trunk and legs).

Tokyo Paralympian Mahesh Jayakody and Dr Samitha Samanmali headlined the competition by winning the PR1 men’s and women’s events.

“It was a very good experience. There are many disabled people in Sri Lanka.This event is a great encouragement for them. It can attract more people to the sport,” said Jayakody who created history by becoming the first Sri Lankan to compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games in August.

“A rower trains in a machine first before getting onto a boat. Endurance and technique have to be developed in machine. But it is more difficult to paddle in water because there is wind resistance and nature. Greater effort is needed in the water,” said Jayakody, who won a silver medal at the 2019 Para Rowing Asian Championship in South Korea and won the selection event for the Paralympics in May.

Dr Samitha Samanmali also concurred that the ratio of difficulty when rowing in the water was far greater than competing on the Ergometer machine on which they train.

“Traditional rowing is more difficult because there may be resistance caused by the weather conditions,” said Samanmali who won a bronze medal at the 2019 Para Rowing Asian Championship.

Both these two elite para rowers are training under the tutelage of national para rowing coach Lasantha Welikala at the Army Rowing Centre at Diyawanna.

President of the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Lt Col. Deepal Herath said para rowing had the potential to win medals at the 2022 Asian Para Games.

“In this country we can promote para rowing very well. There are so many participants. Most of them are doing exceptionally well. I think the sport has a good future,” he said.

National para rowing coach Lasantha Welikala was elated after unearthing new talent especially after conducting a special event as an exhibition for intellectually disabled (ID) children.

“It was a nice event to watch because there was so much of competition among themselves. And they were so happy at the end of it. I am so glad I managed to organize that. To get ID children involved in this event,” said Welikala who pioneered the formation of the para rowing association in 2013.

He also lauded the coaching abilities of Major Mangala Alagiyawanna and Captain Maheshi Liyanage.

“They are now very experienced coaches. I have a good team,” said Welikala who took up rowing at the age of 10 and started coaching schools at a young age.

“This tournament (indoor para rowing) definitely helped in looking at new athletes coming into rowing. We managed to actually select quite a number of new athletes from this event. We will get them involved in rowing in water as well. This is a good stepping stone for water rowing as well,” he said.

Welikala made a passionate plea to parents to send their children for para rowing where the opportunities are vast and there are new horizons to conquer.

“I am so happy that I am able to guide these children, to see smiles on their faces and they have a long way to go. They can conquer the world if they want to. Absolutely no limitations,” he said.