Strong is the New Beautiful
Akushla Emma De Silva
Strong is the New Beautiful is a series of articles written by Akushla Emma De Silva showcasing her strides sport and education. Her journey to success is one to be inspired by. This is the first of the five series articles. Read the second, third, fourth and fifth.
1. Introductory FAQ
- Name: Akushla Emma DeSilva
- Age: 19
- Home location: Southern California
- Sport: Track and Field; Discus
- Profession and educational background: Currently attending University of California, Berkeley; going into my second year
- Years in current sport: 4
- What got you started: I have always wanted to try track and field since my brother had done it in high school. Track and field is only offered in high school, so I tried out for every event when I got there and found that I was best at discus.
- Other personal information you would like to share: I come from a very athletic family so it was always a motivation for me to pursue sports at a higher level as well.
2. Did you play other sports when you were younger? Yes, my mother enrolled me in many sports like basketball, soccer, swimming, and volleyball until I found what I enjoyed. Volleyball ended up being my favorite of the ones I had tried and I played volleyball up until I was 16 years old.
3. How did you become interested in Discus? I became interested in discus when I was 15 years old. I found that I was excelling in meets and had potential to go much further in the future. I chose to solely focus on discus when I was 16 because I had developed a chronic foot pain called plantar fasciitis from my flat feet and my feet became irritated from jumping and pivoting in volleyball. I had always planned on playing volleyball in university and I had to reconsider that now because of my injury. My high school throwing coaches were very supportive of me and demonstrated that I could throw discus in university. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to recognize and hone in my talent and I owe them a lot for getting me started in this journey.
4. Having the right mindset before you compete must be vital to your success. What are you thinking/feeling right before you compete? Any routines/traditions or good luck rituals? My rituals are very unorthodox compared to most athletes. I am a very smiley and excited person and I am often just trying to stay loose and happy while I am waiting for my chance to throw. If I get too quiet or stressed, I often tense up and do not perform well, so that’s why it is key for me to stay loose, relaxed, and focused in order for me to do my best. Focus for me is key but not to the point where I get too quiet and start to stress myself out because that is not in my personality and it is tough for me to do. I also get in a mentality of being very competitive and refusing to lose. You always want to strive to be better than you were last time and I always keep that in mind. I do not have any traditions or rituals per say but I do have a warmup and stretching routine that I do every time before I compete.
5. How has your family supported you in this journey? My family has been my biggest support in this journey, especially now with me competing for Sri Lanka. My father competed for Sri Lanka in cricket when he was younger and he has always been the inspiration for me to pursue this dream of competing internationally. He wasn’t able to compete at the next level due to his choice to attend university in the U.S. instead, so I am fortunate to be able to do both academics and athletics while bringing attention and awareness to Sri Lanka in the U.S.
5. Have you dealt with negative comments/stereotypes? How have you dealt with them? I have not had to deal with many negative comments, but when I do, I make sure to inform them and show them that what I am doing is beyond what most people accomplish in their lives. With stereotypes, I do not believe that people fit a mold or in a box, so anytime that I am being stereotyped, I also try and inform them that there is no specifics for being an athlete. Being an athlete opens many doors for us and it is our job to take advantage of this and do as much good as we can with it. We are born leaders and motivators and it is our job to continue that passion and motivation when we finish our athletics.
7. What’s your training like? My training is pretty intense throughout the week. We train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and sometimes on Saturday if we do not compete. We spend about 1 to 1 1/2 hours on throwing and drills and 1 1/2 to 2 hours on weightlifting and special exercises designed for our event.
8. What’s your biggest accomplishment in this sport? And how has it helped you empower yourself, if it has? My biggest accomplishment in this sport is having the opportunity to attend the #1 public university in the world to be able to throw and learn in a very special place. Berkeley is filled with outstanding students and athletes, which is a constant reminder and empowerment in itself to do your best and accomplish more than you think you can. Another one of my biggest accomplishments was breaking the Sri Lankan National Record. It made things real for me because I am now on an international scale and have the opportunity to compete internationally and outside of my university, which most athletes do not get the chance to do. It empowers me to work for something much more beyond myself and even my university.
9. What is the most challenging aspect of being a nationally-ranked athlete at a young age? Mentally/physically? The most challenging aspect is living up to the international competition around you. Now being able to compete on international scale makes me much more determined and motivated to compete with the big dogs in the throwing world. Being young, I have time to increase my marks but I still have to work just as hard, if not harder, to compete with these women and prove that there is a place for me in international meets. My mindset also has to be sharpened to prepare for the competition in these international meets.
10. How do you balance the demands of your sport/training with your college life?Time management is the biggest thing that I and mose student athletes learn from being at university. You have to schedule your day from when you have classes and practice to when you are going to eat, sleep, and study. You also have to remember to carve out time to relax or hangout with friends as well because the stress and pressure from being at an elite university builds up very quickly and you have to be able to let go and relax every once and a while.
11. What is the best advice you can give to anyone wanting to strive in a sport like you are? My biggest advice would be to go all in and commit yourself and see what you can accomplish. Track and field has given me numerous amounts of opportunities and I know that it can give anyone who works hard, the same opportunities and fortunes that I have had.
12. Do you have a motto or saying you live by? “If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough.” I have used this quote more recently with both aspects of my life. In sports, I have been hesitant to pursue the higher level in track and field because I was worried it would interfere with my academics or with my self-identity. But through time management and balancing my priorities, I have found that the only way to go through collegiate athletics is by fully immersing yourself in it and through hard work, opportunities will come to you. In my academics, taking this internship at amanté was a big scare to me because I would be living away from my comfort zone for 5 weeks and immersed in a situation and culture that was still unknown to me. But joining the team at amanté for this short period has taught me a lot about how a brand functions and the attention to detail that goes along with it. This opportunity has already given me the confidence to know that I can pursue something like this in the future.
13. Who is your biggest inspiration? My biggest inspiration is my family, for all the different aspects they serve me. My brother and I have lived a similar life through athletics and academics, where he played American football at Yale University. It is the biggest gift to see someone who has done exactly what you are going through and to be able to ask questions and advice from him and pull inspiration from the things that he has accomplished. My father has accomplished a lot so far in his lifetime and it is very inspiring to see everything that he has done, from starting his own business to beginning projects to help Sri Lanka, and to know that I can also do the same. My mother has been a shining example of the type of woman I want to be through her strength, character and mindset to live life without worries. She is my best friend and I could not have accomplished anything that I have done without her motivation and support.