Heshan Unamboowe: Sri Lanka

Heshan Unamboomwe

Heshan Unamboowe is a swimmer from Sri Lanka who specialises in the 100 metres backstroke.

He was part of the Sri Lankan squad who travelled to the London 2012 Olympics.

Below Heshan answers some questions from pupils at Art Smith Aviation Academy in Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada and Commonwealth Class

Heshan Unamboowe Q&A

Did you play any other sports before you dedicated yourself to swimming?

"I've always been a sports enthusiast even before I started competitive swimming. In junior school I played cricket, basketball and rugby. However, due to the time and commitment required, I had to stick to swimming."

Do you have any siblings who are swimmers?

"My sister Heshani is also a swimmer who was even the captain of her high school team."

Start Quote

I always aspired to become not just a good sportsman but also to be a good person.”

End Quote Heshan Unamboomwe

Do you have a special diet?

"Although I do not have a specialized diet as such, I always make sure to eat healthy and avoid oily, and greasy food. Swimming is a sport that makes you burn a significant amount of calories compared to many other sports and thus it is imperative that these burned calories are duly replaced. I'm also a very big fan of junk food although I am not that fortunate enough to enjoy it often. However, there's always space for a cheat meal in my diet at least once a week."

Are there any particular swimmers, past or present, who inspire you? Also, you have any sporting idols out with your own sport and why are they inspirational to you?

"Michael Phelps has been a great inspiration to me ever since he started competing at the Olympic Games. He showed the entire world that anything is possible as long as you dream big and put your heart and soul into achieving them. One would describe his 8 gold medal feat at the Beijing Olympics as a miracle. But according to him, it was a result of pure hard work and dedication. There is no 'secret recipe' to succeed in life and through Michael Phelps' character I was able to mould myself as a dedicated swimmer.

"I also look up to Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara who happens to be an alumnus of my high school Trinity College Kandy. Currently ranked no. 2 in the ICC test rankings, Sangakkara is the idol of many Sri Lankans due to his elegant style of batting and his qualities as a gentleman of very high calibre. Looking at them I always aspired to become not just a good sportsman but also to be a good person."

Heshan Unamboomwe

What are you going to do when your swimming career is over?

"I would certainly take up coaching as a part time activity and help however I can to bring up swimming in Sri Lanka. Being an island, we have a great number of talented swimmers who unfortunately lack resources and proper guidance. Therefore I am extremely keen on organizing swimming development projects within the country with the support of fellow swimmers and coaches."

Do you think that your asthma inspired you to take a greater leap when it came to personal challenges?

"It certainly did. As a kid, there were multiple times when my mom had to rush to the hospital with me because I would have a seizure in the middle of the night and I required immediate medical attention. It was definitely the most unpleasant time of my life. I was on medication for nearly ten years and the inhaler became a part of me. However, I always told myself that I would overcome this and after years of treatment I completely recovered from asthma at the age of seventeen."

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Participating at the London Olympic Games was the epitome of my sporting career.”

End Quote Heshan Unamboomwe

Sri Lanka has produced some of the world's finest Cricket players. Do you think the popularity of Cricket and level of attention given to the sport has drawn focus away from the development of athletes participating in other sports, such as swimming?

"Unfortunately yes. Some say cricket is a sport that put our little island on the world map. Before Sri Lanka won the cricket World Cup in 1996 the country was only known for being a conflict zone and a great place for tea plantation. Therefore it is obvious why cricket means so much to Sri Lankans. However, this has drawn all focus away from almost all other sports which could be developed to a world class level. I think the only solution to this is to create a sporting culture within the country that embraces multiple sports."

Do you think that having yourself and fellow Sri Lankan swimmer Reshika Udugampola compete at the London Olympics raised the profile of swimming in Sri Lanka and have you seen evidence of this?

"Participating at the London Olympic Games was the epitome of my sporting career. But more interestingly, the extent to which we as Olympic swimmers of Sri Lanka can inspire fellow Sri Lankan swimmers is quite amazing. Prior to and after the Games there were many swimmers, coaches and parents who talked to Reshika and I with so much enthusiasm. We were invited to talk to many young swimmers, school students and even parents, because they were really interested in knowing what it takes to become an Olympian.

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One of the most beautiful aspects in sports is that it doesn't care what race, creed, religion or country you are from”

End Quote Heshan Unamboomwe

"I'm extremely glad that I was able to be an inspiration to many young swimmers who aspire to be Olympians in the future.

"Since the mid 2000's a significant amount of swimming pools have been built in Sri Lanka promoting the sport island wide. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to take Sri Lankan swimming to the next level by targeting a medal at the Asian and/or Commonwealth Games.

Some of the Commonwealth values include tolerance, respect and understanding. Do you think that competing in organised sports can instil these qualities in young people?

"Yes and that is something I've always believed in. Sports is not only about winning medals, breaking records or proving you're better than the rest. There's a lot more behind the idea of competing in sports. Through competition we learn to accept both victory and loss in a humble manner. Although one may be better/faster than another, by having respect for one another we create an amazing atmosphere for competition which in turn adds a lot more meaning to sports.

"One of the most beautiful aspects in sports is that it doesn't care what race, creed, religion or country you are from. Your biggest rivals on the field can turn out to be your best buddies off the field. I therefore believe that all sports enthusiasts out there should always know that sports is not simply competing"

What advice would you give to children with aspirations of becoming sportsmen and women?

"Nothing is impossible. If you want to achieve big you need to dream big. Do not be afraid to have big goals in life. However, dreaming about succeeding itself isn't going to help. You need to work hard in order to achieve these goals. The key factors of success are hard work, commitment and dedication. There will be many people around you who will say that your goals cannot be achieved. They are wrong! As long as you believe in yourself and you commit yourself to what you're doing, there's nothing that can stop you from getting what you want. However, let us also not forget to have fun! What's the point in working your heart and soul off if you cannot enjoy what you're doing? Therefore make sure you have a lot of fun while working hard. Good luck!"

What are your ambitions for the future?

"I would really like to see myself as a successful engineer in the future. It was my dream job ever since I was a little kid and in order to make my dream come true I came to the United States to pursue my higher education. Currently I am studying mechanical engineering at the Miami University of Ohio. Upon graduation I would like to pursue a career in the engineering field and ultimately return home and serve my country to the best of my ability."

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