Ex-Sri Lanka rugby great on how a champ is moulded | Sunday Observer

Ex-Sri Lanka rugby great on how a champ is moulded

5 September, 2021
Harris Omar
Harris Omar

Trinity ‘Lion’ Harris Omar says a champion is an individual ‘who is determined to live,  serve and perform better than today, every day’:

A day before a Sri Lankan war hero Dinesh Priyantha Herath achieved what seemed mission impossible by winning a historic gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, a former national rugby captain Harris Omar conducted an interesting discourse on how a champion is moulded.

One of the finest backrow forwards produced by Trinity, Harris has an enviable career record displaying great leadership skills to lead Trinity, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka with distinction before walking out of the sport on his own terms.

Trinity regained the Bradby under his captaincy after a lapse of three years in 1995, he represented Kandy SC as a schoolboy and went on to lead them to a Triple crown in 1999 when the club was celebrating its 125th anniversary winning the inter-club sevens title for the first time. An automatic choice for Sri Lanka from 1996 to 2002 captaining the side at the Asian Games in Busan, he also led the Sri Lanka Under-20 and Under-24 teams the latter winning a Test against Hong Kong in 1998.

The inaugural speaker in the webinar series themed ‘Be the Real Heroes’ organized by Wild Drift, Harris Omar was in his element when the moderator set the ball rolling by asking him the definition of a champion and whether he considers himself as a champion of life.

Champion of life

“Let’s not forget the fact that truth lies the truth always. Truth is that I cannot champion you. Who champions you is yourself. That being is inside you. This was my fate as well for a very long time. That element is a deep desire within you which will blossom into a reality through your thoughts, your actions, your habits, your behaviour and finally it becomes your lifestyle,” said Harris who implored the audience to look beyond him.

“Let me ask you to see beyond what you see of me. See beyond what you are seeing of you as well which is also important. Hear beyond the thoughts and thinking of me because I am one life. You are a powerful life within you. See beyond that as well,” he said.

“And third, feel beyond the imperfections of what you see in me as a host who has basically taken up your valuable time,” he added, urging everyone to brace for the challenges in life.

“Let us realise that life is very hard. If you want to achieve something, live your dreams, whatever you want to do is not an easy task. On the flip side of it if you want to minimize or negate a basic negative habit of yours or redefine a toxic relationship within yourself within people close to you or anybody, this is not easy. It is difficult. I know it myself. It is not easy,” he said.

“Life is challenging but understand that problems are everywhere. Either we have finished the problem or either we are in a problem or either we are getting towards a problem. So that’s what life is all about,” said Harris who saw an opportunity when faced with a problem.

“Most important thing I am grateful for in life is that I gradually began to understand the importance of a problem. A problem is not always a problem. A problem is an opportunity to realise something greater about yourself. To revision yourself, to reframe your conversations, to imagine who you are going to live as in the future. We are in a place and a time which is tough,” he said.

“I feel for all of you. The individual who is outside in that screen on their home front. I feel for a lost one, a loved one of yours because it happened to me as well,” said Harris who choked with emotion as he spoke about the loss of his parents earlier this year.

Biggest pillars

“Within a span of 50 days I lost the biggest pillars of my life, leaving me and my domain. It was not easy. I can still imagine, remember, and visualize the moment when I put my father into the ambulance, sitting next to him, whispering into his ears and telling him ‘Dada! Today is not the day. You are the strongest man in my life’. But that day was the day,” he recalled on the loss of his father Izwan Omar, a former Trinity and Kandy SC rugby stalwart.

“I can still remember my batchmate Shenal coming to me while I was walking five hours up and down the intensive care of Peradeniya hospital saying ‘machan go home. Every element of support is being done. Go home, take a rest and come back’. I said ‘machan I have only one hope. I see a machine with lights. I saw it in red. Now I see it in orange. I wish it could be green’. I can still remember my mother for the last time seeing my father’s face holding his forehead and saying ‘I will see you soon’.”

“So this is life. I have in my own way I have lost. I understand that and I feel for you,” he said of children who are missing school, people who have lost their jobs, for the parents who are finding it difficult to pay the bills and finally, for the hungry.

“I know what it is. I am not the high-flying CEO who is talking to you. I am in that rut. That is the essence of what I call a champion,” said Harris who once took up a job “because at that moment in life I didn’t want another failure. I would have done whatever it takes to prove myself that I am bigger than anybody else.”

So who is a real champion? “Forget about my rugby, all those trophies we have lifted. That’s nothing for you. It’s nothing for me. It is my life I want to live with my children and my family from now on,” he said.

“A champion is an individual. Not an employee, not a CEO, not anybody else. Who is determined to live, serve, perform, today better than yesterday. Who is determined to live, serve, perform better than today, every day. That is my champion. And for me that is my billion-dollar movie. I want to be the chief star in that of my life. Championing life. Championing yourself is to stand up for yourself. Stand up against those negative comments that come within you. Telling ‘stop, you can’t do it’. I have had enough of that,” said Harris, who wants to inspire at least 100 people with his transformational coaching by January 2022.

Decision not a choice

He underscored that choosing a career is a decision not a choice. “When you make a decision you need to understand you are going to sacrifice a lot of things. There are going to be moments when you are going to be on your own and you are your own master,” he said, breaking that element into three aspects.

“Simplicity is complex because you have to understand we are a product of our own thoughts and our thoughts are a product of a lifetime of conditioning from family to our coach, where we come from, our religious background, our employment, all of this. We are a bundle of conditioned thoughts, conditioned emotions. At the same time we are multi-layered in different emotional states based on what we have experienced in life,” he said.

“Secondly, you may need to change. You have the need to beat somebody’s record but to see that outcome might not be sufficient enough. It may be difficult and tough.”

“Lastly, we all desire to be successful. As a person who is aspiring determined to be a champion. It is not a simple journey. You need to have that need burning within you. It is not a peaceful reality,” expressing his gratitude to his family especially his wife without whom living his dream would not be easy.

Even when he was offered a contract to play for Kandy SC, he chose to play on his terms.

“I can still remember one day that moment where a few stalwarts of rugby like Malik Samarawickrama, Priyantha Ekanayake, Dr Sarath Kapuwatta and Saman Kotalawela who was our manager sitting in that small room and telling me ‘You know son we have identified you as a very good rugby player and we want you to keep playing for us for a few years and we would like to give you a sponsorship’.”

Family and education

“Thank God I was in a family. I can still remember my aunty who was very instrumental in my life. They said how important education was. And that was the reason I got my first degree because thanks to my aunt Nazeera who said ‘son if you are walking out of this house you have to be educated’. Those were our conditions,” he recalled.

“At that point I said I will play for Kandy Sports Club no problem but I need an opportunity to study, to do my degree. I need it. I remember Malik saying ‘Harris you go pick your university, come back and play for us but when you end up, work one year for my company’,” he said.

He also related why he celebrated the birthday of a boss he really admired in his corporate life Dian Gomes. “I was determined that when he was celebrating 55 years of his life, I must do something special. Not because he was the most high flying CEO, not because he can give me my next increment but because he took me at a very early stage in my career when I joined that company. That is the reason finally 55 mothers and families went to Dambadiva for the katina pinkama in celebration of his birthday. Am I a Buddhist? No! It’s not about that. It’s about what matters to people,” he said.

“I am also grateful that four years ago I basically took liberty to meet one of the greatest human beings I have known who was my former chairman Mahesh Amalean. I walked up to his office and with my own humility and humbleness said, I spent every penny I had to educate myself because I know how important it is. I want to ask you why I am leaving this company because I want to live my dream as a champion. At Cardiff Business School my professors did not accept my thesis. They said if you have come to a business school you need to write about operational elements. What is this topic called ‘developing a generation of champions’? I said that is the core of everything,” he explained, also expressing his gratitude to his uncle Rauf Riffai who encouraged him in public speaking.

Asked how to make career decisions, he said: “Make your decisions when the time is right for you. I gave up at 26. I chose to give up on the sport. I was not made to give up. You need to know when to continue or bow down.”

He has also opened the eyes of employees who mostly believe in overcoming challenges rather than chasing dreams. “Is not overcoming challenges a part of your dream,” he asks.

His final pearls of wisdom to move forward in life is that winning is not all about success.

“Behind trophies, accolades there can be damaged people, individuals. You need to understand why people do sports. For some it is a livelihood, a stepping stone for something more or is a breadwinner. Why do we do sport or why does an individual do sport? There were moments I forgot my own roots. I used to do crazy things but there were always people in our life who came and grounded us. Coaches made sure we didn’t go too far away. They were always there. We must understand reality as parents. This is important. Having conversations is important. Getting that success is not easy. Determination has to come from within.”