Chat with Milo Champions : Theeksha Gunasinghe – Antonian who combined academics with sports
By Vimukthi Adithya
Not many can strike a perfect balance between Academics and Sports and excel in both at the same time. However, if a schoolboy engaged in two sports from his childhood with utmost dedication, along with other co-curricular activities while achieving sensational O/L and A/L results, then it definitely speaks volumes about the boy. He played cricket, kept advancing up the age groups, led the boys, kept wickets and scored heaps of runs. He also played rugby, a sport that demands one to be physically and mentally tough, and once again captained the boys bringing them victory after victory. He played a bit of basketball, captaining the boys and got engaged in Athletics. He danced, he sang, he compered and kept on winning awards, becoming a superstar and a student looked up to by other kids. Former Sri Lankan Cricketer and coach Ruwan Kalpage is his uncle, but the boy not only excelled in cricket, but became a perfect all-rounder everyone dreams of becoming.
The duo Salinda and Manjula Gunasinghe were blessed with two boys. The elder was Nimesha and their second - born on 7 July 2000 – was Theeksha. Well, 21 years ago they would have never thought that Theeksha would be an amazing personality with a legacy of his own. Born in the hill country, Theeksha attended St Anthony's College, Kandy from Grade 1.
The kid showed a special love for two different sports, one, the gentleman's game and the other the Hooligans game played by gentlemen. Yes, Rugby and Cricket. It indeed requires special abilities to represent the School, Captain the School and excel in both sports at the same time.
First, when he was in Grade 3, Theeksha decided to mingle with the oval shaped ball, and then the next year, the kid decided he should play a bit of cricket, too. For a kid, there could have been many practical difficulties in engaging in two different kinds of sports, that demand equal attention and commitment, but even at such a young age the boy was willing to accept any challenge, in fact he enjoyed them.
Let's first pen down the Theeksha’s cricket career. He first played for the Under-13 team in 2010 when he was 8-years-old. After four years of experience at under- 13 level, in 2014 he then played in the under-15 team while being vice-captain. The next year he was entrusted with leadership duties. Taking a step forward, the teenager was also made the captain of the Kandy District and the Central District under-15 teams. Impressive performances by the boy also saw him being included in the Sri Lanka Schools under-15 team.
In 2014, while playing for the Under-15 team, Theeksha was also absorbed into the first X1 team under his brother’s captaincy. 2017 saw him captaining the under-17 team while also being part of the first X1 team. In the 2016/2017 School Cricket season he scored 680 runs and the stats kept on piling over the years. Theeksha had wicket keeping duties as well. In the 2017/2018 season he scored over 800 runs inclusive of two centuries and six half centuries, and 48 dismissals as wicketkeeper. The vice-captain in the 2017/2018 season got promoted as Captain the next year, and his batting simply improved. The teenager reached the 1,000-run milestone (1,055 runs), with three centuries and five half tons, adding 55 dismissals behind the wickets.
From 2014 up until the 2019 season St Anthony’s played in Division Two, but after Theeksha and his boys became the runners-up in 2019, the team was promoted to Division One. The impressive performance in 2019 saw the school becoming the best team in the Central Province and were awarded as the all-island emerging team. The boy had talent and skills, and not only that, he had fame, too. This was evident when he became the Mobitel Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the year in 2019.
“I started Rugby when I was in Grade-3, and moved through the age groups captaining the Under-12, 14, and 16 teams. In 2014, we became the all-island under-14 Plate Champions; in 2016 we became all-island Under-16 champions and also became the Central Province champions. From 2016 till 2019 I was also able to play for the first XV team. In 2017, I was privileged to feature in the final 15 of the Under-18 rugby sevens team which participated at the Youth Commonwealth Games. 12 players travelled to Bahamas to participate in the Games, while I was selected as a reserve player. This also helped me to obtain Milo colours for Rugby.” Theeksha touched on his decorated School Rugby career.
Two different sports at the highest level - play a cricket season, score heaps of runs and then play a rugby season, fall down, get in contact with others, score tries. And now if you think managing two sports is difficult and his achievements are tremendous, then hold on to your horses, there is more to come; the next few lines would definitely be hard to believe. Sports will hinder studies - the thinking behind many parents - and they put restrictions on their kids, but Theeksha was a different kettle of fish; a determined boy who found a different kind of motivation from sports for him to engage in studies. In 2016, the boy did his O/Ls, and obtained 9 ‘A’ passes. In 2019, when he took his A/Ls, the boy passed with 4 ‘A’s. His results made him 56th in the Kandy District and 934 all-island. What a year 2019 was for him: score over 1,000 runs in cricket, play rugby at the highest level and then obtain flying colours and get University admission with great results.
We have seen and heard many students balancing sports with studies, but here the weight is high because it is two sports. These were the two sports he did till he finished his school career, but he also played basketball and was engaged in athletics at the under-14 level. Under-14 basketball captain in a Kandy District tournament, he became the best defense and the most valuable player. If you also think that we should stop at Studies and Sports, then let me remind you about the boys’ extracurricular activities in school. Theeksha was in the Interact Club, Commerce Society, did dancing, in 2017 won an all-island merit award for singing, participated in a media competition organized by Mahamaya College, and became the all-island best sports commentator.
Theeksha’s balancing act was one of a kind. When he stepped out of school, he created an unmatched legacy of his own. He was in Grade-3 when he was awarded the best all round student of the Primary Section. In 2010 he was named as the most exemplary student, while the next year he was made the Head Prefect of the Primary Section and then became a Senior Prefect in 2016. The highest award an Antonian can obtain before he leaves is the Bedd Gold Medal. This is awarded to the best of the best, and everyone is not lucky enough to get hold of the prestigious medal. This was last awarded in 2009 and then in 2019, because Theeksha deserved it for his brilliant balancing act.
“My parents never forced me or put restrictions on what I should and need to do. As a kid I was given complete freedom to choose what I felt was right. This helped me to excel in everything. They were always motivating and encouraging me. My brother, Nimesh laid down the foundation and I just kept on following him. He was also into sports, captained the Rugby and Cricket teams and did his studies well. He was sort of my role model and I wanted to be like him. It indeed was difficult and was a challenge to do these two sports together as they were not aligned with each other. Cricket took more time and needed a lot of concentration and patience. Rugby is more of a contact sport, where you need to be fast. Two completely opposite sports and managing them with studies was not easy. To be honest, I wouldn't have become the cricketer I was if I did not engage in rugby, and the same applies other way around too, and also, I would not have become so good in academics if I was not involved in both the sports,” revealed Theeksha.
“Both sports played a huge role in my life, shaping who I am today. One main thing sport gave me was how to work under pressure. For example, when you walk into the middle to bat when the score is 50 for 5, that is batting under pressure, and if you can do that well, you have the capabilities to accept any pressure in future. Self-confidence, team work, leadership are few of the traits the two sports inculcated in me.” Theeksha touched on how his parents supported him and what sports added to his life.
One might wonder how the boy did everything perfectly together without falling back. You might assume that he might have taken breaks from the two sports when he had to do his O/L and A/Ls, but this was not the case too. The only challenge he faced once was the overlap in the cricket and the rugby season. After a cricket season, he would straight away switch to become a different person and engage in a different sport.
What would his typical day look like during the last few years of his school life? Well, the routine seemed to be a hectic and stressful one, but the boy enjoyed it. His day would start with fitness sessions in the morning; then he would change into his school uniform and do his prefect duties before jumping into his books. After 1.30 p.m. he would then attend cricket practices, and then around 3.30 p.m. he would wear his boots and go for rugby training. After that was the time for tuition. He had to engage in a lot of studies at extra classes to make sure he did not fall back. After tuition it was coming home late at night and engaging in studies. Five days of the week this became the routine of the teenager. Without a doubt he enjoyed it and did not break down at any point.
“After ending my school career, I was not driven to start a professional sporting career. All I wanted was a professional career, but my brother is still in the system playing first class cricket. I had to undergo surgery on my shoulder, and this played a huge part in me deciding not to engage in sports after leaving school. As I was awaiting my university entrance, I decided to enroll at APIIT in Colombo to keep myself engaged, and then later I entered the management faculty of the University of Colombo. I am also someone who loves to face new challenges. I love to engage in public speaking, personal development, entrepreneurship, and I see a future in it too.” The much-decorated Theesksha touched on who he is at the moment.
The role models of Theeksha have changed from time to time. He considers Indian Cricket Captain Virat Kohli as one of his role models. Currently he looks up to people who have changed the world in the calibre of David Goggins and Tony Robbins. During his school days, Trinitian Hasitha Boyagoda was an inspiration to him. Hasitha was a similar kind of all-rounder like him.
“My advice to parents is that they need to get away from the traditional, conventional way of thinking that studies are the priority. Parents should let their kids discover what he or she is passionate about. To be honest, talent doesn't matter much, what matters is passion. Let the children find out what they are truly passionate about and allow them to continue with it. If I found out that I am so passionate about music, that is what mattered, not the grades I get for my exams. Whatever the kid likes, let them make mistakes and learn, because making mistakes while at a small age will be very helpful as they will make sure not to repeat anything when they move into the public eye. School life will not come again, and kids should make sure to make that journey memorable, engage in what they like and make sure to enjoy and balance everything.” Theeksha gave his final advice to parents and kids.
The legacy of Theeksha will remain for a while at St. Anthony’s.