This happened almost 40 years ago. It was the Under 17 400m final of the John Tarbet Athletics Championship. The points table had St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia ahead of Royal College, Colombo. The gap was 5 points. Royal had a first-timer. Roshan Askey.
Nerves are not unnatural. Askey was not impervious to them. He confessed many years later that he had gone to the toilet no less than six times before the race. He was probably not the first nor the last to find relief in that manner.
Anyway, the race started. Tragedy struck. It was not as dramatic as Derek Redmond at the Barcelona Olympics (200m) being struck down by a torn hamstring. Redmond, brushed aside medial teams, got up and hopped his way to the finishing line. He didn’t win the race, obviously, but won the hearts of millions and still continues to do so 28 years later.
Askey’s dilemma was of a different order. Someone stepped on his foot, his shoe came off. He had options. He could have quit. No one would have said anything. He could have put his shoe back on. He would have completed by probably would not have being placed.
A voice thundered at him. It was Darshana Wijegunasinghe, Askey’s captain. Now Askey was a small-made guy. A bullet and a giant in other ways, but in terms of physical stature, small. Darshana was tall. Well over six feet in height, he towered over the rest of the team. Add ‘skipper’ to persona and you get ‘giant’. A giant screamed: ‘Duwapang Askey!’ [‘Run Askey, Run!’].
‘I almost peed then and there,’ Askey says now, indicating fear and obviously respect. A command was given. It was obeyed. Askey ran. He had one shoe on. On the other foot just the sock. Askey ran like he had never run before. He won that race. Royal edged ahead of St Thomas’ and Askey helped his team secure the coveted trophy.
For Askey and a lot of others, Darshana is a legend. For an equal number of people, Askey is also a legend. They trained hard. They ran and they jumped with heart. They fought to the end. They never complained about what they didn’t have but did the best with what they had. They stood with and for one another.
Today, Darshana is a doctor attached to the Ragama Teaching Hospital and Roshan is an optometrist. The records they broke at Royal still stand, almost forty years later.
Their sons followed their footsteps, more or less. Darshana’s son was the captain of his alma mater’s athletics team and Roshan’s son captained Royal’s rugged team the same year. In time to come, perhaps, they too will be seen as legends, but that’s something time and events will decide. I know nothing of Darshana’s son’s exploits in Athletics, but Roshan’s son put over the ‘last-play-of-the-game’ penalty from a very difficult angle that tied up the aggregate at that year’s Bradby, ensuring that Royal retained the shield for one more year.
A skipper would spur his or her team. A team player would listen to his or her captain. Regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes it’s just a ‘duwapang puthaa!’ scream from someone you truly look up to (in this case literally and metaphorically) that pushes aside the obvious physiological disadvantage imposed by an unanticipated mishap.
Small things. They make poignant stories. They teach lessons. And those involved, unintentionally teach us something important. We call them legends. Later.
This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [March 16, 2020]