Unwavering as an arrow towards its goal

The Story of a Woman Who Conquered the World of Archery

A strong woman knows she has strength enough for the journey, but a woman of strength knows it is in the journey that she will find her strength. Today we are going to tell the story of an inspirational Sri Lankan woman who traversed various constrictions and limitations in her path. Sunethra Senevirathne of the Sri Lanka Police, is a woman of many talents, most of all she is a courageous person who believes in herself. We could sense her determination and passion just by listening to her speak. She started her journey as an amateur in archery and with hard work and determination has reached its pinnacle of being the only International Archery judge in Sri Lanka. Today we look at her inspiring story to get a sense of how she managed to keep climbing the steep ladder of success whilst facing many challenges.

Sunethra Senevirathne began her career with the Sri Lanka Police Force in 1993 as a Reserve Woman Sub Inspector and is now a Woman Chief Inspector and the Assistant Secretary General of the International Police Association, the first female police officer to hold this position. She has always been eager to try new things and as a result, while working at the Police Headquarters, she set her eyes on archery in 2004.

 “I had no idea that archery existed as a competitive sport. I thought that it was used only in hunting. Previously, I had only seen our ancestors, the indigenous people in Sri Lanka, carrying bow and arrow.”

Sunethra said on starting this somewhat uncommon sport. One day, back in 2004, she learned that new players were being recruited for archery through a letter received by the Deputy Inspector General of Police. Beginning archery was a defining moment in her life. She had no idea what it was like or what was in store for her until she attended a practice session at the Sugathadasa Stadium and discovered that it was her sport.

“I learned that if I practice frequently, it won’t be difficult.” She knew she could do it because she was also the best shooter in her batch in the Police. 

Being an archer requires great mental and physical strength. Her whole body needs to be able to endure the weight of the bow unflinchingly for a long period of time. The upper body strength, agility and flexibility need to be at a very high level to ensure a good draw power. Balance and coordination, quick reaction time and self-confidence are all essential characteristics in an archer. To perfect her technique an archer needs to practice for long hours methodically and persistently. This means an archer needs to be self-motivated and patient. 

She began practicing after forming a team with a few other selected applicants, since they were given permission to practice on Fridays and Saturdays. Then came her first national tournament. It was memorable because Sunethra won her first gold medal after only two months of practice. In the 2008 South Asian Archery Championship in India, Sunethra won 4 Bronze medals, and represented Sri Lanka in the 2007 (Australia) and 2011(USA) World Police & Fire Games, in 2008 the first Asian Compound Tournament in Myanmar, and in the 2016 South Asian Games. 

After gaining international exposure to the sport, Sunethra became increasingly interested in becoming an archery judge. However, the reality was that archery did not have the required infrastructure in Sri Lanka. Being an expensive sport, it did not penetrate the masses as a popular sport. In Colombo, there were roughly 6 archery clubs and the National Archery Pool, but these archers lacked a decent practice facility. 

Sunethra was not one to give up easily, and in spite of such difficulties and lack of facilities, she trained to be an archery judge for the 2006 South Asian Games, held in Colombo. This was also her first experience as a National Archery Judge. The exposure gained from the South Asian Games fueled her aspirations of becoming an international judge, but given the limited opportunities in the country, she was unsure how to progress to the international level. It was then that she learned about a seminar on archery judging in Chinese Taipei in 2008. “By that time, I was a member of the Sri Lanka Archery Federation, and I said, ‘I want to participate in this.”  She attended this seminar with another volunteer.

Sunethra describes her humble beginnings with pride: “It wasn’t the type of seminar we expected; we had to take a test, and we had to study. We took copious notes from large books like the Judges’ Guide Book, Judges’ Rule Book, and so on. I didn’t even have a laptop. The Indian team was also there, and they were really helpful. We stayed up all night studying because it was such a difficult exam.” Her hard work paid off as she passed the exam, allowing her to take her place as a Continental Judge in 2008.

In 2009 she got her first appointment as a Judge at the 5th Asian Grand Prix, Bangladesh. Being the first ever Sri Lankan archer to serve as a Judge in an international event, this marked a turning point in her career. After serving as a Continental Judge for several months, in 2010 she also successfully completed the International Judge examination held in Bangkok.

By now she has served eleven years as an international archery judge, and her being the one and only international judge from Sri Lanka is something for our whole country to take pride in. Her participation in events grew in number and variety as they spanned across a multitude of countries including the 2010 Asian Games which was held in China, 2011 World Cup Finals in Turkey, the Para World Ranking Tournament in Germany and many more. 

The World Cup Tournament is like the Olympics. There are only three judges from the whole world and I was one of them.” Sunethra added.

Her adventure did not come to an end after becoming an International Archery Judge. She also served as a Chief Judge for the Flaming Arrow Archery Tournament in Singapore in 2013, in the 2nd South Asian Archery Championship in Bangladesh in 2018, and in the Asia Cup World Ranking Tournament in Thailand in 2020. She has also organized all national competitions, including those for the Defense Services, in addition to these international tournaments. 

Incidentally, she also served as a mentor by training young archers as an Archery Level II Coach in Sri Lanka. It was the first time in history, in 2018, that a Youth Olympic selection trial was held in Sri Lanka. Sunethra played an important mentoring role in that. She is the current Vice President of Sri Lanka Archery Association. In terms of additional accomplishments, she received police colors in 2004 and 2008. Among her once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are being in charge of the independence parade for five years and climbing Mount Everest in 2010 and reaching its base camp. She was also a member of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace process. Aside from these outstanding accomplishments, she has participated in numerous seminars and congresses all over the world.

While there are approximately 300-400 International Archery Judges in the world, holding this post is difficult, as there are a multitude of responsibilities that come with it. The judges are the technical officials in archery. They are in charge of implementing the most recent version of the World Archery Rulebook and guaranteeing a fair playing field during international competitions. The main challenge is determining the correct value of arrow placement because it represents a country’s victory.

I’m really happy that I could hold this position. In the 2020 Tournament where I was the Chief Judge, the person who taught me was also there as my deputy judge,” said Sunethra.

In the field of archery, there is a lesser number of female judges than male judges. She expressed the difficulty of juggling sports, career and family, and that it is very important to have a spouse who supports you in all three arenas. Not for a moment did she discount the amount of work she has to do within a day for her job, her family and for the sport. Sunethra, who balances her private and professional lives while bringing great pride to our motherland, is a woman to be treasured and celebrated. 

Sunethra holds many other positions outside of sports as well. She is a Commission Member of the Social Cultural Commission of the International Police Association World Body. Her perseverance and commitment in securing this post only in a span of 20 years is incredible as she is the country’s first female police officer to achieve this position. She is also the National Organizer of the Arrya Foundation, a foundation that provides assistance to uplift the cultural, religious and national affairs in the art and media sectors with a wide range of events for the benefit of the security forces.

Sunethra is married to Upeksha Gajabahu Kalansooriya and has two sons, Peshala Kalansooriya (26) and Umesh Kalansooriya (24) who have also followed in her footsteps by becoming national and international level archers and Continental archery judges. She lives happily with her family while continuing her role as a police officer and as a chief archery judge. Sunethra is a wonderful example of bravery, commitment and perseverance and the things that you can achieve irrespective of the gender roles the society deems suitable. Sunethra’s story is a living testimony that all you need is courage to believe in yourself and the rest you will achieve once you have the determination to take a leap of faith and follow your passion.

Written by Isora Liyanarachchi


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