Dinesh Priyantha - From outskirts of Anuradhapura to Paralympic medalist

By Vimukthi Adithya | Published: 2:00 AM Jun 23 2021
Sports Dinesh Priyantha - From outskirts of Anuradhapura to Paralympic medalist

By Vimukthi Adithya 

How many of us would move away from our comfort zones or day-to-day lives if we become a differently abled person? Many become scared, and few others would shy away and withdraw from society without even trying out something different.

But amid all obstacles and challenges, if someone can win at the international level, then wouldn’t that be something to be proud of? Taking one step forward, what if that gutsy human being decides to start a professional sports career after getting injured? Simply amazing, isn’t it? Winning an Olympic medal for your country is not an easy achievement. 

Yes, Sri Lanka has four Olympic medalists – and many would be surprised to hear this. Many of us continue to believe that there are only two athletes - Duncan White (1948) and Susanthika Jayasinghe (2000) - but how many are aware that we have two athletes who won medals at the Paralympics? Not many, since the recognition we give to Para sports is less in comparison to other sports.

 It was on 13 September 2016 a javelin thrower participating at the 2016 Rio Paralympics clinched a Bronze medal with a performance of 58.23m. This athlete took part in the F46 event. If you wonder what F46 means, F and T stands for field and track events respectively.

 In the Disability class T or F 46, the athletes have a single amputation below or above the elbow. Usually T/F40-46 means Athletes in this category have varying amputations and other disabilities, including Les Autres. India’s Devendra won Gold with a distance of 63.97m - where he also renewed his own world record - and China’s Guo Chunglian won Silver throwing a distance of 59.93m.

 Herath Mudiyanselage Dinesh Priyatha Herath, with a then personal best of 58.23m, went into history as the 4th Sri Lankan Olympian and the 2nd Paralympian to win an Olympic medal for Mother Lanka. Earlier, Pradeep Sanjaya won a Bronze for the 400m T46 event at the 2012 London Olympics. Representing Sri Lanka and participating in the Paralympics/Olympics where 1,139 athletes from 146 nations competed, and winning a medal and seeing the Lion Flag fly high, was definitely not a walk in the park. 

Getting there amid all the difficulties demanded a lot of courage, determination, guts, sacrifice and whatnot. Born on 15 July 1986 in Kagama (Anuradhapura District) to Y.M. Kamalawathi and H.M. Lokubanda, Dinesh is the second child of the family. His best mates as a kid were his elder sister and younger brother. Dinesh attended Kagama Dathusena Maha Vidyalaya. 

Just like every kid would do, he too fell in love with cricket, but mainly this was as a recreation activity and he did not take the sport seriously. As a kid he did not have time to engage in sports as the responsibilities he had as the eldest son kept on increasing. 

His father’s demise when Dinesh was only 12 hit the family really hard. It was Dinesh who now had to play the role of breadwinner even though he was still schooling. He helped his mother with the farm work and had to toil hard to make a living. The hardships he endured as a kid is difficult to be conveyed in words. The entire responsibility of looking after the family fell on the shoulders of the young Dinesh. 

The same Dinesh, if born to a middle or a high income family, would have been playing with his best mates, going on outings with his family and living a contended life, but the kid in Anuradhapura had to earn a living and look after a family. 

In 2004, at the age of 18, he decided to join the Sri Lanka Army (3rd Gajaba Regiment) to earn a living to look after his family, and also protect the country from terrorism. 2008 was an unforgettable year for Dinesh, but looking back, if that incident did not happen 13 years ago, I wouldn’t be writing about him. 

It was the year he almost lost his life, but it gave him new hope and a completely different life all together. The war was at its peak in 2008, and during the final stages of the humanitarian operations Dinesh got wounded on 16 December in Kilinochchi. Three bullets fired from a T-56 hit his left arm and the pain the 22-year-old youth had to bear would definitely have been unbearable. The next four years of his youthful life was spent at the Ragama ‘Ranaviru Sevana’, getting treated and regaining confidence to start another new chapter in his life. Corporal Dinesh Priyantha retired from the Army on medical grounds. 

In 2012 the high-ranking officials of the Gajaba Regiment encouraged him to take up sports, and insisted that Dinesh should master the javelin throw. After grabbing the javelin with his right hand, he became a legend in the sporting arena, and a star was born at the age of 26. “I was not involved in sports as a kid. 

After I got injured and after my rehab was over the senior officials of the Gajaba Regiment encouraged me to take up the sport. Considering my height and my body structure they thought that this would be the most suitable sport for me. In my first Meet - Army Inter Regiment Para Games - I clinched the Gold medal establishing a new Sri Lanka record. 

Then at the selection trials for the 2012 Olympic Games I attended a championship in Malaysia, and even there I won the Gold medal, but since I was not included in the world ranking I was not selected for the 2012 Olympics, but I decided not to give up,” reminisced Dinesh on how he became a Javelin thrower. 

From his young days Dinesh had to go through heartbreak and hardship, so not getting selected for the 2012 Olympics would have been an insignificant incident. Dinesh then participated at 2014 Asian Para Games, but was only able to clinch 6th place. Leaving 2012 behind, his main intention then was to participate in the 2016 Paralympic Games. 

After years of impressive performances and clinching both local and international medals in 2016, he participated in another selection trial for the Olympics; this time a championship held in Germany, and his performance was good enough to book a ticket to Rio. When a wounded Lion wakes up it will make sure to roar louder than before. It was his dream to participate in the Olympics, and this gutsy, determined gentleman decided to make the country proud by clinching a medal at the Paralympics with a then National record. 

It was after 2016 that his sports career started to pick up. Next, it was the World Para Athletics Championship held in the UK. Dinesh won the Silver medal with a throw of 57.93m. In 2014, Dinesh missed out on winning a medal at the Asian Para Games, but four years later he was not the same athlete; he was experienced, matured, and had an Olympic medal behind him. In the 2018 Asian Para Games he established a new Games record by throwing a distance of 61.84m in the F46 Category to claim Gold. 

Within three years Dinesh had won medals at three major para championships: a medal at the Olympics, a medal at the World Para Athletics Championship and another one at the Asian Para Games. His determination saw him win his second World Para Athletics Championship medal, when he clinched a Silver medal at the 2019 edition held in Dubai. His performance was 60.59m. “Sports added so much value to my life. After being wounded it was sports that showed me a new dimension in life, and it paved the way for me to become a recognized medal winning athlete. It was not easy getting involved in sports after what I had to go through; a lot of sacrifices were made to reach this level. 

My involvement in sports was after 25, but age is never a barrier or an issue, as what sports adds to a personality is something remarkable. I gained fame and became established and stable in life, all because of my involvement in the beautiful game,” Dinesh said, on how sports added value to his personality. Dinesh has qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and without a doubt he would have set his sights on bettering his Bronze medal which was achieved four years ago.

 Even though the country was under a lockdown, Dinesh kept himself active and maintained his training regime at maximum level. As stated by him, the support he received by the National Olympic Committee and by the Ministry of Sports to engage in training was immense. “Sports play a major part in the lives of kids. It is the duty of the parents to make sure they get involved in sports and give them the freedom to engage in the sport they like. Kids also should understand their capabilities better and get involved in a sport that they can excel in. Also, to anyone in the Forces, I would like to tell them to never be afraid of getting into sports. 

Even if you are injured, do not be afraid to come forward. Understand your strengths and make sure to master a sport that could give you many things in life.” Dinesh shared his advice. Dinesh married Isanka Maduwanthi in 2008, four months prior to being injured, and since then she has been his strength, providing him support. Together the duo is blessed with three beautiful kids. 

The eldest son is Pramadha Menuwan, daughter Mithuni Warshana, and the youngest son, Sasdula Chanulya. His mother and his family have been his greatest assets, helping him to come a long way in sports and personal life. The story of Corporal Dinesh Priyantha Herath (retd) is definitely one that would motivate many out there. 

It is a wonderful story of guts, grit and determination, a story that highlights that your disabilities should not be an excuse if you have the will power. It is also a story that shows it is never too late for new beginnings if you have the ability to work hard, be willing to sacrifice and stay determined. Finally, let’s wish Dinesh good luck for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and let’s hope that he can bring credit to Mother Lanka!

By Vimukthi Adithya | Published: 2:00 AM Jun 23 2021

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