12th September 1999
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports |
By Mihiri WikramanayakeFor "Boxer" Dassanaike, this lifetime will not be enough to finish his race. In the "prime" of his life, aged 81 "and a half" he emphasizes, he has a lot more to achieve. And his greatest achievements are on the track and field in far off places like England, Singapore, Australia or wherever there is a race that will accommodate his age group!
Dassanaike, has just returned from the World Veterans Athletics Championships held last month at Gateshead, England. He was the only Sri Lankan entrant among 6000 other athletes, worldwide, at the Games and is proud to add that the Lion Flag was flown to honour its country's lone participant that day.
He ran the 100 metres with 17 others and the 200 metres with 16 other competitors and came sixth in both events.That was somewhat of a disappointment to this most enduring man. He had nothing to bring back home to add to his collection of gold, silver and bronze medals other than of course, pleasant memories and personal satisfaction.
"But then there is always a race in 2002 to better myself," he says. "Although, then, I will be running with chaps four years younger than me," he adds thoughtfully. These Masters and Veterans races are held every four years and are categorized into five-year age groups.
Born in 1918, Alfred Dassanaike is a die-hard old Thomian from Mount Lavinia, and a man of great talents. After initial financial hardships, he was awarded a scholarship to STC Mount by his great mentor, Warden Canon de Saram.
He was nicknamed "Boxer" by Canon de Saram for his prowess in the boxing ring when he won the Stubbs Shield two years in a row. Needless to say, that name stuck ever since "even though Alfred is such a grand name."
Dassanaike also took an active interest in cadeting and was junior and senior sergeant. "The year I was senior sergeant was the first time College won the Commandants Trophy," he proudly reminisces.
He has five first team colours from STC Mount Lavinia to be proud of- for cricket, hockey, boxing, fives and athletics. He was also the headprefect of this illustrious college and was selected the Best All Round Student for 1937.
Dassanaike then went on to join the Navy as Captain and was commended as Officer with the Most Number of Sea Time. At 27 years, he was the youngest commander of a ship in charge of anti-submarine vessels.
From there on he held many different posts in many diverse fields like instructor of physical education, a swimming coach his alma mater, teacher, a mercantile executive, and even as a surveyor in Nigeria to do a river survey for possibilities to freight cargo. Dassanaike explained that the roads were too hazardous for transporting such cargo and the Nigerian government had intentions of exploring the possibilities of using the river.
After spending two years in Nigeria, Boxer Dassanaike was ready to return home. But retirement was not exactly what he had in mind. A daily routine was soon established and this energetic man was on the move again.
He started and still strictly maintains a daily schedule of a four mile walk along the beach in the mornings and a four mile run along the College track each evening.
"Now, that is something that never changes, ever, unless the sky is falling down," pipes in his daughter, Jamini, his prime caretaker now. She tells of an accident that occurred recently when her father was severely jolted in a bus he was travelling in and hit the side of his ribs. He returned home as usual, walking down De Saram Road and informed his daughter of minor discomfort to his upper body. On suspicion, Jamini consulted a doctor who confirmed that her father had indeed injured his lungs causing them to collapse. Immediate surgery soon put him right. The doctor sent him home with strict instructions to rest and take things easy.
But easy for this gentleman meant half strength. The next morning Jamini found her father back to his routine but heeding the doctor's advice. He was just doing two miles of each, his morning and evening exercise! Now this is from a man who had just turned 80!
Boxer Dassanaike proudly displayed his crest on his blazer with its representations. Asian Veterans Games, Singapore 1992, 4th Masters Games, Perth Australia 1993, 5th Masters Games, Melbourne Australia, 1995 10th Malaysian Games 1996 and World Veterans Athletics Championships England 1999.
Suddenly, he remembered something of great importance, his 12 year contribution towards the youth of this country when, together with Dr. Hayman, another great Thomian stalwart, he started the Outdoor Training School in Gurutalawa for adults and kids. This school was run entirely as a non-profit organization. The adults included service personnel from the three forces and any child with no bias whatsoever.
Dassanaike was offended at the suggestion that he might take vitamins to boost up his energy. "I have never taken any vitamins or energy pills, ever, and am a teetotaller," he declares. "But I will indulge in a glass of wine to celebrate my winnings."
He is rather disappointed that the National Sports Ministry does not recognize older athletes like himself. There is no sponsorship available for such veteran athletes who have so much energy and less ego.
All his meets have been funded by himself with a little help from friends. The recent meet had cost him well over Sterling Pounds 1000.
A lesser financial burden will help him concentrate on his race hopefully. I couldn't help thinking that the most frequently used adjective by this great man was "fantastic." Every phase of his life has been described as "a fantastic time of his life." This is no doubt a Grand Old Man of the Fast Track