She may be petite but she dreams big
She trains three times a day, six days a week starting at 6 a.m. and finishing at 5 p.m. with breaks between sessions. "I have a holiday on Sunday and I can eat a wee bit more on Saturday night," she says.
Jayakodige Nadini Nirodha Gunasekera has her sights firmly fixed. The petite young weightlifter from Kegalle is aiming for a Gold at the next Commonwealth Games to be held in 2010 in India.
Nadini was adjudged the Best Lifter at the National Weightlifting Championships 2007 held by the Sri Lanka Weightlifting Federation on December 27 and 28 at the University of Kelaniya.
The Kandy YMCA won all three championships - the Women's Championships, Men's Championships and the Overall Championships. Governor, Central Province, Tikiri Kobbekaduwa, invited this winning team to the Governor's Office recently to felicitate them. Speaking to the Kandy Times at this simple ceremony, Nadini said she had to undergo immense difficulties to reach her present standard.
Success didn't come easy, says Nadini, explaining how she came to choose this unlikely sport. "When I finished school, I was appointed a Samurdhi Niyamaka. I was always interested in sports and after a hard day's work, I would go to the Kegalle public grounds to play." It was the Sports Officer of the Kegalle Municipal Council Bernard Perera who had spoken to her one day, saying, "weightlifting oyata galapenawa" (weightlifting will suit you).
"This worked in my mind and I was excited at the prospect of becoming a weightlifter," she recalls happily. She trained with Mr. Perera for two years until he left for England. He advised me to go to the Kandy YMCA and continue my training, she says. However, in 1994, Nadini nearly gave up due to personal problems. She lost her father and the family faced financial difficulties. "I have an aiya and a malli (elder and younger brother). Aiya was in the Army and now he is disabled. Malli is studying at the Kelaniya University. So, our family had to undergo untold misery. I was depressed and unhappy."
However, the Sports Officer in Kegalle, Chamila Nadee, herself a weightlifter had contacted Athula Wijewickrema, the coach at the Kandy YMCA who kindly consented to train her from March 2000. I am grateful to him and I am glad that I did not stop my favourite sport," said Nadini. Initially she had to travel all the way from Kegalle. So, they gave her a job at the YMCA which she says was more like a grant. "It was my coach who helped me overcome my depression and helped me to gain confidence in myself."
"At one time the Federation wanted to scrap the Women's National event. But on second thoughts they did not and I am happy about it." Since 2000, Nadini has been the Best Lifter in the Women's category at every competition held by the Weightlifting Federation.
Nadini participated in the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne, competing in the bodyweight category of 58 kg. She lifted 68kg in the Snatch and 85 kg in the Clean & Jerk category, a total of 153 kg and was placed 7th. "There was a tie for the 6th place but due to a body weight difference of 100 grams I was placed in the 7th position," she said.
After the Commonwealth Games, she was motivated and continued her training daily. "Sunday is my only holiday," she smiles. Athula Wijewickrema has made a detailed study of the placements of the contestants at the last Commonwealth Games and has come to the conclusion that Nadini can win a medal - a Gold. When Nadini came to Kandy for training her Snatch was 35kg and Clean & Jerk was 45kg. But within three months of training, she was able to achieve very much more. "So, I knew she can reach international standards," stated Mr. Wijewickrema.
Under his eagle eye, she maintains a strict training schedule and diet. "It is very necessary that she should be disciplined to achieve her target," he says. "My food consists of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and I eat 6 egg whites a day. I also drink 6 litres of water," Nadini says. She has to maintain her weight to qualify for the particular event she is aiming at, which is the 53 kg category.
Mr. Wijewickrema has studied the achievements of the weightlifters at the last Commonwealth Games and said the Gold went for a 188 lift. "So, my aim is to train Nadee to achieve a total lift of 190 - 192 kg in the 53kg bodyweight category and compete at the next Commonwealth Games in 2010 to be held in India" he said.
When one talks of weightlifting, images of bulky bodybuilders come to mind. Nadini is quick to point out that the two are quite different. "Girls should not fear that with weightlifting their muscles will develop and "enga avalakshana wei kiyala". Stretching out her arms she says, "See, I don't have large biceps" which is true.
Confident of winning a medal at the next Commonwealth Games in India, Nadini says she will thereafter train for the Olympic Games.