By SHESHAN DIAS
Having established himself as the 37th fastest swimmer in the world at the recently concluded Swimming World Championships held in Abu Dhabi, Akalanka Peiris is without a doubt the best swimmer in Sri Lanka at this moment. Fresh off this victory he has already commenced training for the upcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in July this year. Taking a quick break from his insanely hectic schedule Akalanka sat down with us to discuss his journey.
I’m Akalanka Pereis and I’m 21 this year. Born in Panadura, my initial school life was at Prince of Wales College Moratuwa. Following the scholarship examination I then went to St. Peter’s College and that’s where I finished my education. Growing up I had a great childhood and I spent a lot of time having fun with my family and friends. My family used to go on outings every Sunday and it was at one of these outings that my father decided to take us for a swim. I was 5 when I first cannonballed into a swimming pool and although I had no aspirations of being a national champion or representing my country, I knew swimming was something I genuinely liked to do! Following that, my life mainly revolved around swimming, studying and having a great time with my family and friends all the way until I finished school.
I was 7 when I won my first Championship. The funny story was that although this was a small club level tournament, my father convinced me that it was an all island meet and if I won I would be the fastest swimmer in the country. I was 7 and naive so having won that meet I naturally became the self proclaimed fastest swimmer in the country in my age category. It was honestly at that point that I understood the importance of a winning mentality. The next year however, at the All Island Swimming Championships held at the Sugathadasa Stadium I became the Champion in my age category (for real this time!). From 2008 up to date I’ve been the National Champion in my age group. In 2013 I represented my country for the first time. Fast forward a few years I became the 7th fastest swimmer in Asia in my age group. 2016 was the year that I won my first International medal. I won it in Indonesia at the Asian Schools Championships. I won two silver medals at that particular meet.
In the same year I participated in the Mini Olympics held in Russia where I obtained the gold medal and became the fastest swimmer in the world in my age category in the 100 backstroke event. Having participated in the Youth Commonwealth Games in 2017 I was ranked the 4th fastest swimmer in the youth Commonwealth region. I also broke two national records in that tournament. I also participated in the World Junior Championships and was ranked 21st in the world. Two weeks later I participated in the Asian Championships where I won 2 gold medals and 1 silver medal, broke 3 national records and became the fastest swimmer in the Asian region in the under 19 age category. Having participated in the Commonwealth Games in 2018 I was ranked the 10th fastest swimmer in the commonwealth region. 2018 was a special year for me as I had to participate in the Asian games while simultaneously sitting for my Advanced Level examination. I was ranked the 15th fastest swimmer in Asia and also became the first Sri Lankan citizen to do my A’ Levels in a foreign country. At the 2019 South Asian Games I won 1 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze medals. 2021 was where I participated in the World Championships and I became the 37th fastest swimmer in the world.
For the longest time I used to swim and practice regularly purely out of love for the sport. As I progressed to a national level I started training about 4 to 5 days a week and to be honest the intensity of training really ramped up when I was about 17. Training increased from 5 sessions a week to 9 or even 10 sessions a week (sometimes twice a day). I wake up at 3 everyday and do what I have to do whether I like it or not, and that requires discipline. This life is certainly not for everyone.
After the lockdown I had only two months to train so I had to put in my maximum effort. I had about 6 intense weeks of swimming and about 7 days of gymming in order to prepare myself. It was extremely challenging, physically as well as mentally. But I firmly believe you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable so I pushed hard, I thought of my family, friends and country and I wanted to be able to bring happiness and glory to them all. The experience in Abu Dhabi was, in a single word, amazing. I gathered so much experience, met so many amazing people and was also able to achieve a great deal!
It means so much. I was able to give my best effort and bring glory to my country by being the 37th fastest swimmer in the world. My goal is to represent Sri Lanka at the Olympics and hopefully bring home a medal. In my journey to doing so, this achievement was a major milestone.
I like to help people. It makes me happy. We have to be happy to perform well and helping others improve their lives is something I love to do. Aside from this I love to spend time with my family and my close friends. I like to study and gain knowledge. I believe knowledge is power so I take my studies very seriously. I also like to play other sports as a hobby.
My mother, father and sister have sacrificed a lot in order for me to be where I am today. I would be nothing if not for their constant encouragement, commitment and love. I’m grateful for them everyday! Aside from my family, my first coach at Prince of Wales, my coaches at St. Peter’s College and all other coaches who have been there for me throughout the years have been instrumental to my success. A few old boys from St. Peter’s have also been helping me immensely throughout my journey. Furthermore all the teachers at my schools and university have constantly guided me with good advice and helped me complete my studies amidst my hectic schedule!
The main thing is to enjoy your life. The other thing is to live a balanced life. Work hard to be the best at what you do, but at the same time give attention to other parts of your life such as studying or spending quality time with people you love so that you never get bogged down by the pressure or feel demotivated. I live by the quote, “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life!”
We wish Akalanka all the very best and we hope to see him and cheer him on at the 2024 Summer Olympics!
Pix courtesy Akalanka