By Rochelle Palipane
Blazing through the playing field like a fire brand, was none other than OmalkaGunaratne who won the admiration of many rugby aficionados since his glory days at Isipathana College. So much so that one would automatically ascertain that rugby was part of his DNA and he had inherited it as a birth right from his ancestors but Omalka has carved his own path and strived not merely to be a rugby player but to be a great rugby player!
In an era or even an island when one’s affiliation to rugby is most often associated with one’s lineage, the young man who hails from Colombo attributes his exceptional abilities to sheer determination and a passion for the game!
OmalkaGunaratne played and captained all the teams he played for at school level which included the U12, U14, U16, U18 and the First XV teams. He also represented his alma mater Isipathana College as a number eight at the Inter Schools Rugby Championship. The dynamic player captained the Sri Lanka National U19 fifteen-a-side Rugby Team in 2015 which became runners-up at the Junior Rugby Asiad. He also represented the Sri Lanka Junior Rugby players at the Asian Youth Games in China in 2013. Omalka emerged as triple Champions in 2014 in the school tournaments and was adjudged the Highest Try Scorer, Milo Knockout- Player of the Tournament and the Sirasa Platinum Awards Best Player. The year 2015 was also memorable as he had the privilege of captaining the First XV team of Isipathana College which emerged as Triple Runners-up in the school matches.
He was the Vice Captain of the Sri Lanka National U21 team which won the Asian Sevens Championship for the first time in the country’s rugby history. He also represented the Sri Lanka National Rugby Team in both Sevens and Fifteens formats. He currently plays for CH & FC after a five-year stint with CR & FC. In 2019, he had the privilege of captaining the national team at the tender age of 23 years which he considers the best achievement of his life to date.
A father’s dream comes true
Omalka’s foray into the game of Rugby began with his father who hails from Trincomalee. Years ago, the senior Gunaratne had the opportunity to witness a match played by Isipathana College and another team in Colombo with the former displaying their signature grit in a game that has taken precedence in their lives, as Pathana has produced over seventy national players since the game was introduced to the school in 1963. This extraordinary display of hardcore rugby, stirred a deep desire to see his sons play the game one day. Yet, Omalka’s affinity towards the game began only when he started playing for the U12 level as it became more than a father’s aspirations – it became his own dream which he pursued with a passion. “My first Coach of the U12 team I was part of played a pivotal role by bolstering my love for the game.
Rugby is sacrosanct at Isipathana; although I had no affinity for the game prior to joining school I agree with a saying that is popularized by all Pathanans that, “Rugby is injected into our blood, and it becomes our lifeline.”
While many young school boys; either by choice or the need to fulfil a vicarious dream of their parents enter into the hallowed arena, there are only a few who earn the term; legendary. For the propensity they have to make the game more lively merely by their moves is deep-seated, and it is definitely poetry in motion to watch them in action. Omalka’s love for rugby and his performance on the field exudes greatness through and through.
Q. What was the most challenging time of your life?
“Being the youngest player selected to Captain the Sri Lanka Rugby Team was a tough challenge, but I was determined to lead the team to victory. I was also assigned the responsibility of Captaining the youthful CR & FC Rugby team and despite being an additional challenge, I accepted these positions and worked tirelessly towards the goals.
These challenges further culminated in 2020 when the lockdown was imposed due to Covid-19, and we were left asunder with no avenue to pursue our passion for the sport, but this period propelled a new interest in me – Lifestyle Coaching.
Q. As a Lifestyle Coach what value do you offer?
I have seen the value given to fitness and healthy living and what I offer is a personalized support through mentoring and guidance to anyone (it does necessarily have to be only athletes) interested in reaching their goals related to their mental and physical well-being. It was VikumKodithuwakku at High Octane who suggested it as he had observed my instinctive desire to help others at the gym, on the field and in life.
Q. What differentiates you as a player and leader?
I believe in leading by example – For instance, I discipline myself to arrive first for practices and leave last and when I am in the field I will always be in the thick of the battle, in the frontlines so to speak. Good leadership is the desire to make a difference and have a heart that is willing to do so while maintaining a positive attitude.
Q. What has your devotion to Rugby taught you?
It has made me into a mentally strong person with the keen sense of awareness about life in general as its imperative that you work hard and love what you do while maintaining a healthy attitude as those attributes will inevitably take you towards your ultimate goal- to be the best version of yourself!
Omalka expresses his heartfelt gratitude to his Amma, Thaththa, Nangi and Malli for the unstinted support they render to his life. As well, he is extremely grateful to all his coaches from KrishanNiroshanWettasingheThusharabandara, BandulaMallikarachchi, Shamli Nawaz, Nilfer Ibrahim, AnurangaWalpola, Dinesh Kumara and all the national coaches, club coaches, nutrition partner- Fitness Island and VikumKodithuwakku of High Octane.