As you pass by the Sri Lankan Tennis Association campus on weekdays in the morning, almost the entire area is taken over by players on wheelchairs. Almost 25 of them are sweating it out under the watchful eyes of former Sri Lankan national champion PS Kumara and his contemporary George R Paldano.
Those in the know say this has been a familiar sight in the last 10 years when the SLTA took the initiative of starting a training programme for soldiers of the Sri Lankan army who were disabled in the war with Tamil rebels. It has turned out to be a life-changing initiative for the soldiers, who otherwise were staring at a bleak future.
“The nature of their injury made them invalid, we are trying to make them valid,” says Kumara, who is a contemporary of Indian tennis stars Ramanathan Krishnan and Premjit Lall.
“No one would have looked at them but as tennis players they have got opportunities to travel abroad; it has helped many of them to get married too. It's helping them to get integrated into the society,” adds Paldano.
Two of them, Gamini Dissanayake and Upali Rajakaruna, took part in the Paralaympics in London. The two had won the singles and doubles event at the Indian Open in Delhi and the Indonesian Open in 2011.
In the 2012 World Cup held in Seoul, the Sri Lankan wheelchair tennis team won the bronze medal beating Italy, Slovakia and Germany en route.
“We are also teaching them English. The aim is to teach them a vocabulary of 2500 to 3000 words so that they do basic reading and writing, which will open the avenue of umpiring for them.”
The Sri Lankan cricket board also reserves an enclosure for army veterans during international games.