By Camelia Nathaniel in Vavuniya- Date:2012-09-24 13:53:00
By Camelia Nathaniel in Vavuniya
Pix by Priyantha Wickramaarachchi
There were no shots fired, no grenades exploding, no tanks ripping through the country-side and no choppers landing to evacuate the dying or wounded.
This time the rustic but bustling town of what was once a border crossing at Vavuniya was captured by the arrival of a man who clutched an automatic rifle and grenade pouches hunting down his foes.
He was none other than Pradeep Sanjaya with his world acclaimed bronze medal that he won at last month’s Paralympic Games in London that made him an overnight celebrity, a sporting ambassador and a symbol of a new beginning.
Interestingly those who fought against him now see the wounded soldier as their hero and role model.
“It’s a big honour to see that someone who was wounded at the hands of the LTTE had won a world medal. I am hoping that I can someday do the same”, said an ex-member of the Tamil Tigers who identified himself as Anthony Jesus.
The army hopes that that the history-making Paralympian will be just what the country needs to seal a lasting bond between two forces that a few years ago fought devastating and bloody battles.
“An army soldier went to the Paralympics and won a medal for Sri Lanka. In a similar way we plan to groom these ex-combatants to represent Sri Lanka someday”, said Brigadier General Dharshana Hettiarachchie, the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation who believes the day is not far off when a former Tiger will sport the Lion logo.
Already eight former rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are in what is being called the National Pool dreaming of the day they’ll be able to battle not for a separate state but for Sri Lanka and this is where Sanjaya has become a true model for reconciliation which until now may have existed only on paper.
“I am happy to see that we who once fought one another other can now come together and play together. If only they (ex-Tigers) can also win like me, I will be very happy”, said Sanjaya the country’s new post war mascot.
It seemed like the whole of Vavuniya could not get enough of the welcome ceremony reserved for Sanjaya as he was garlanded and ushered in to an arena for a night’s celebration by two former rehabilitated female cadres of the LTTE.
The whole country knew that Sanjaya, who became somebody from a virtual nobody, was injured in a fierce battle in Killinochi in 2008 just six months before the Tiger Supremo Vellupillai Prabakaran met with his waterloo. But what is not known about the differently-able athlete is that it took the army just a few moments to realize that Sanjaya was something special when he was directed to pick up a javelin that was thrown by his post war instructor Sergeant Major Chandrasiri who soon realized his charge was meant for bigger deeds.
“He only ran a few strides that day and we knew he was an athlete. The rest is now history”, said Major Kodagoda the sports officer of the Sinha Regiment that Sanjaya belongs to.
Major Kodagoda said that the army will take no undue credit for the exploits of the London Games bronze medal winner apart from the fact that they gave him encouragement, the most important factor that led to his success.
“We just showed him the way forward and he did the rest. He is addicted to training all the time and his determination and commitment is there for all to see. So it is all due to his hard work”, added Major Kodagoda.
Sanjaya’s dedication to training was so monumental that before he even realized it, his wife Dulanjali had given birth to their first child two months premature.
By becoming the first Sri Lankan differently-able athlete to win a medal at the Paralympics which follows the Olympics, Sanjaya is now being touted as a revolutionary of Para Games in the country.
“To be honest very few people were interested in these Para Games. Now there is a huge amount of interest. I knew he (Sanjaya) will not come back from London without a medal. That was the faith I had in him”, recalled Major Kodagoda.
Certainly Sanjaya is now a beacon of light to the whole country not just because he won a world medal but because he just might be able to do something none would have dreamed of and that is to turn a Tiger into a Lion.
“We have already implemented a programme to get them (ex-Tigers) to represent Sri Lanka and I hope and pray that they will bring honour to Sri Lanka although they were fighting for a separate state”, said Brig Gen. Hettiarachchie.