Ishika De Silva

The first female captain of the Colombo Rowing Club in 155 years History

Breaking stereotypes with every stroke

Get ready to meet the ultimate trailblazer of Colombo Rowing Club – Ishika De Silva! She’s broken all stereotypes and shattered glass ceilings with every stroke of her oar. From being the only girl in her rowing team to becoming a national champion, Ishika’s journey is nothing short of inspirational.

Excerpts of Ishika’s interview with Biznomics:

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in Rowing? 
At the age of 14, my parents were keen for me to start a sport as I was slightly overweight. After trying many options such as swimming, badminton, squash, I decided to try Rowing following a few friends of mine, and the rest is history. I began my rowing career at Musaeus College and continued thereafter at Asian International School and for Colombo Rowing Club.

What does a typical day at the rowing club look like for you?
Hmm, considering a time when I am training for a regatta, I would start my day around 5:30 AM, boat out by 6 for a quick training session before heading to work. And return after work around 6:30 for a rowing session from 7-8 PM and repeat this all 5 days.

What life skills have you learned from being a member of the Colombo Rowing Club?
The rowing community is very small, especially the oarsmen and women at Rowing club. This small community is almost as close as a family, and the best skill I have learnt is to socialize with people of all age groups, be it someone who started rowing even before I was born or whether it is someone currently in their teens rowing for school, we will sit down at the same table and talk about our experiences in this sport for hours. This has really proved to be an amazing skill when working with a diverse group of people even at my workplace.

Could you please tell us about your participation in the second summer youth Olympic Games?
I had the honour of being able to represent my island nation as the first young ambassador at the 2nd Summer Youth Olympic Games. It was always my dream to be a part of the Olympic experience, staying in the village and having unlimited access to the events. The youth Olympics apart from the events were keen to raise awareness on Olympic values and the culture of China where the event was held in 2014. My role was to share the importance of learning and living the Olympic values in addition to taking part in their respective events as these were vital qualities to build in future Olympians/ All athletes.

What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Rowing for me is many things, picking one aspect is tough. I enjoy the satisfaction of experiencing victory after putting in the hard work at training. We used to say it’s 7 months of hard work, dedication for just 4 minutes of pain. But another great thing about rowing is that I find the scull to be therapeutic. The peace and quiet you feel rowing alone in a boat, early hours in the morning in the middle of a usual busy city and all you hear is just your oar touching the water and watching the sun rise. There’s no better calming feeling for me personally than this.

Tell us about your experience training all alone after moving to AIS in order to row the Scull?
It was a great learning. Although I did miss rowing the fours initially, I think rowing the scull shifted my mindset completely. I always considered it to be an impossible task to perform in a scull without the years of experience, but my learning was that it was all about the practice and the extra bit of hard work. From an all-girl rowing team, I began to train with the boys who were as competitive as I was and gender was not a barrier, and to get closer to their timings and performance without realizing I started doing extra workout sessions every morning, which I believe unconsciously pushed me further. And thereafter the winning became something I didn’t want to compromise on at any cost, and I continued this crazy workout schedule the rest of my rowing career.

How does it feel to be appointed as the first female captain of CRC in 155 years history?
Tell us about your experience along with a few key responsibilities. It feels surreal. Honestly, when my Captain Ruven Weerasinghe asked me to consider being his vicecaptain I didn’t realize the impact saying yes would create. I was more focused on balancing my fulltime job, my MBA and my role as vice-captain. Soon enough, there were some questions raised about my appointment and what this would mean, which for me was out of the ordinary and I soon realized that my role and responsibility as the first female to take on this role is firstly, to perform to better than expected standards in my responsibilities and secondly, to break the barrier through results that a female too can achieve what is expected of this role. But I think getting appointed and breaking the barrier was one part of the milestone and it will not be complete until we see a second female rowing captain, which I hope would be soon.

Tell us about your experience as a female member at the committee of CRC last year?
I was in the committee in 2018-2019 as Vice Captain and 2019-2020 as Captain) It was a very smooth experience as I was privileged to have a supportive committee that always gave ear to my points of view and supported me throughout my roles as vice-captain and captain. Not to say that we were always on the same page, but I was always treated as an equal and voiced my sometime opposing points of view and we always managed to come to common ground to do what was best for the rowing community at Rowing Club.

Have you ever wanted to be the captain of a rowing club? How does it personally feel to be one?
Honest answer is no, it was not a dream I chased. I did realize that it was possibility only when about 2 years before getting appointed as vice-captain when a friend casually mentioned that I’d be good for a future captaincy post.

What are some of challenges you didn’t expect but overcame with determination throughout the beginning phase of your rowing journey?
I think most of my early rowing career was a journey filled with unexpected challenges. Firstly, my weight loss was very challenging and that was I believe what required the most level of determination and self-discipline as I lost around 25 Kgs since I started Rowing. Secondly, fighting those mental barriers, I feel like most of the time we are our biggest critics and proving to ourselves that we can achieve great things is tough. For me it was switching to row and train on my own, something that was new to me where I ended up surprising myself.

Could you take us through your history in competitive rowing? 
Tell us about your championships and accomplishments. During my early rowing days, I rowed Pairs, Fours and Double Sculls, basically all boats with partners. I made good progress during LC-MC Regattas and Nationals, but at a junior level. Switching to sculls was when I saw my rowing performance improving. During 2011 Nationals I won the first gold medal for AIS winning the under 18 Single scull and School girl sculler events. In 2012, I had one of my best sculling races at Madras-Colombo where I was losing up until half of the race and caught on to win the event. I rowed the double scull as well and we won this event too. In 2011 and 2012, I also took part in Erg championships and achieved a sub eight timing in the women’s category which was achieved after about 4-5 years I believe. In 2014, I rowed the Open Single Scull and Double Scull at the Senior Nationals which went on to win Colombo Rowing Club the Overall category. And thereafter I have been competing in Madras- Colombo Regattas and ARAE up until my captaincy.

What’s one golden piece of advice or a message you’d give to other athletes of the coming generation?
Trying something new is what really scares us most of the time. What we need to remember is that there’s a fire within all of us and that’s what true passion feels like, follow it. There’s honestly no such thing as a free lunch, hard work wins results and that’s what is worth it at the end of the day.

Tell us about some of your biggest achievements?
Hmm, apart from captaincy, I am proud of being selected to be the 1st Young Ambassador at the 2nd Summer Youth Olympic Games, Rowing the Open Single Scull and Double Scull at the 2014 Senior Nationals which went on to win Colombo Rowing Club the Overall category and lastly, Leading my Team at the 2019 Madras Colombo Regatta and 2020 ARAE Regatta as Captain of Boats of CRC.

Are you looking to be a rowing instructor? Tell us more about your future goals and aspirations?
At this moment in time, I have not looked at the option. But you never know what the future holds.

By: Nuskiya Nasar

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