Making waves with butterfly strokeView(s):
With breaking records becoming almost a habit with 16- year-old Jessie Seneviratne, the young swimming champion says she takes a meet by meet approach
By Anoushka Jayasuriya
At just 16 years old, butterfly stroke specialist Jessie Seneviratne accomplished a milestone for any young swimmer, crossing the finish line with a timing under 30 seconds in a 50m event.
A student of Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya, she became one of the latest Sri Lankan swimmers to break the elusive 30 second barrier in the women’s 50m butterfly event while competing at the National and Junior National Long Course Swimming Championships, organised by the Sri Lanka Aquatic Sports Union in July.
She went on to set two new records at the MILO-sponsored 48th Sri Lanka Schools’ Aquatic Sports Championships, which concluded at the Sugathadasa Stadium Swimming Pool Complex on August 27. Competing in the Senior Category’s Under-18 Age Group, she overtook the previous record in the 50m Girls Under-18 finals, with a timing of 30.25 seconds to secure the gold medal, although deviating slightly from her personal best of 29.95 seconds which she clocked in at the Long Course Swimming Championships meet last month. The previous record of 30.51 seconds was set by Hiruni Perera of Harischandra College Negombo in 2016. Jessie went on to secure the 100m Butterfly gold medal, setting another meet record with a time of 1:07.54, once again outdoing the previous record of 1:08.64 by Hiruni Perera in 2016.
The only competitive swimmer in her family, Jessie credits her mother for sparking her biggest passion and being her biggest support. When Jessie was only three months old, she says that her mother got her accustomed to the water, by teaching her to float and other basic swimming skills during family outings to the beach and pool.
Jessie joined the CH Swimming Academy Sri Lanka, embarking on her competitive swimming career when she was a primary school student in Grade 4. Under coach Chamara Waduge, she had climbed to the top 8 in the Under-11 category, coming 5th in the 50m freestyle at the Sri Lanka Schools Swimming Championships 2018.
Currently she trains with Shehaan Dias, Head Coach of Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya with whom she says her athleticism and drive has only continued to improve.
Asked about her long-term goals as a competitive swimmer, her humble answer was that her focus is always set on the next immediate competition, determined to perform better than the last time. She’s been preparing for the upcoming trials for the 11th Asian Age Group Swimming Championship 2023 to be held in the Philippines at the end of the year.
Beyond her steady meet by meet approach, Jessie is hopeful of one day representing Sri Lanka at both the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. As for her academic future, she says she’s interested in studying Information Technology and Business Studies.
Her achievements so far are certainly hard won, beginning her day at 5 a.m. and training six days of the week. Balancing her aquatic activities with her studies, preparing for next year’s OL exams, is her biggest challenge so far. However she says that her training as a swimmer often lends itself to her studies, adding that her math skills have grown, a result of calculating and estimating her timings in relation to the distances she’s required to swim. Her dedication to the sport has enhanced her focus too. “Swimming clears my mind and helps me to memorise things better when I’m studying. I’ve found it stimulates your brain and helps you to focus better and study well.”
Alongside developing her physicality, Jessie says that she strives to maintain a sound mind when competing avoiding distractions, underscoring that mental strength is just as necessary to perform well. “When I get to the event, I never look at the people beside me in the lane because when you look at the people beside you, you can get more nervous.” Among the biggest lessons she’s learned she says is the importance of maintaining your composure in a competitive environment where nerves can turn fraught in an instant. She adds, “Seeing your competitors beside you, you can get kind of tense but when you jump into the pool you mustn’t struggle. When you start struggling you start to slow down.”
Her life outside of swimming is not unlike that of most girls her age spending as much time as possible with her friends and family and as an avid reader using the rest of her free time to decompress with a book. “If I get a book, for days I’ll be in that book – nobody can take me out of it.”
Above all else, she’s immensely appreciative of all those who have supported her - her primary school teachers, her primary school Principal Sr. Jessica Kulathunga, her Principal Rev. Sr. Charitha Thandalge, her teachers, coaches, teammates, friends and parents.
“If I didn’t have technique correction and proper training I wouldn’t be here. If I didn’t have proper encouragement and support, I wouldn’t be here. All of them added up to take me this far,” she says.