Fighting misconceptions and making Sri Lanka proud

By Pavani Jayasinghe Munagamage

Andy Andrews and Keshini Vitharana were crowned National Champions for Sri Lanka at the worldwide “Open”, earning invitations to the 2019 CrossFit Games in Wisconsin, US (to be held from 1 – 4 August), as the first two Sri Lankans to be qualified for the games.

The “Open” is a five-week, five-workout competition. Workouts are released online each Thursday, and athletes have until the following Monday to submit their scores.

CrossFit Ceylon Co-founder and Head Coach Andrews began his athletic career as a golfer, eventually going on to find his new purpose in crossfit. He is now a trainer and coach at CrossFit Ceylon.

Vitharana, who won a bronze medal at the Rowing Nationals in 2011, was introduced to crossfit in early 2015, and has been improving in the sport ever since, alongside Andrews, who is also her coach.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Brunch, they describe everything from how they relate to crossfit and about their hopes for the big win in the US.

How do you feel about winning the Open and being chosen to represent Sri Lanka at the CrossFit Games in Wisconsin?

Andrews: It’s very surprising because this rule came into play only last year. Previously, getting into the games was a very painstaking and long process. I think this will get more exposure for this sport in the country. More people will be interested as there’s now a legitimate chance of participating in a world championship. Now, we have the ability to qualify within the country without the need to travel overseas, and invest in the process.

Vitharana: It’s exciting because we now have something to work towards. It was always fun to do the Open, but one now has a legitimate reason because there’s a possibility of qualifying for the games itself – it’s the highest stage of crossfit.

What does it mean to you to represent Sri Lanka in the US?

V: Firstly, I’m incredibly proud to represent Sri Lanka and be one of the first Sri Lankans to take part in the games. I’m very excited to see how this plays out on an international ground. I also think the fact that we are able to be part of something so big will contribute to growing interest in the sport here, due to which other people’s lives will improve by being introduced to this new sport. Ultimately, crossfit will get new attention.

A: I think we have this entire notion in Sri Lanka about how our genetics are a disadvantage, and that is just a stupid excuse. It’s is the base of what we all learn when we are young. So for me, it’s mainly about my drive to prove that notion wrong.

In your opinion, what are the incorrect notions Sri Lankans have about crossfit?

V: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that they feel they have to be fit to start crossfit – this is not true. Crossfit is for anyone and everyone, and there’s always a way to scale it, regardless of your level of fitness. Professional athletes as well as mothers engage in workouts in the same class.

Another misconception is with regard to women. Many women think they will get really big and bulky if they do deadlifts, but if you look at those women who are massive – women who engage in bodybuilding – you need to understand that you can never really get to that unintentionally, as a lot of work goes into it. Instead, you will get really lean and toned.

A: There are so many misconceptions in Sri Lanka, too many to count. I think the biggest misconception is how to train in crossfit and what it really is.

When we came into the picture, crossfit was exactly everything it wasn’t supposed to be. Crossfit is based on science and it’s not just a bunch of people lifting weights and running around. Many people think that if they come to the gym, we will make them do pull-ups, squats, and many other exercises, and most are scared.

But the reality is that even if we wanted you to do those exercise, you can’t. You’ve got to earn the right to do a pull-up, and getting there is a slow process.

This is something we try to do at CrossFit Ceylon, in order to give everyone the right idea of what it really is.

What drives you in this field?

A: I do this for a living. Now, my entire life is CrossFit Ceylon. My drive over the last five years was to introduce the professional sport to Sri Lanka; I wanted to spearhead it and also bring it in its organic form. My motivation to professionalise crossfit in its true form runs deep.

V: I was about 18 years old when I started crossfit. I was really unhealthy at the time, so my friend dragged me to one of Andy’s classes one day, and I really liked it.
It empowered me because I see all these women engaged in crossfit, who aren’t and don’t want to be skinny; they just want to be strong, healthy, and able to do these things that look so different from a typical woman’s perspective.

What are your thoughts about this sport as the Founder of CrossFit Ceylon?

A: You can’t hide from crossfit. It’s popping up everywhere, and there’s a reason for it. It’s not a gimmick and it’s going to be around for a very long time.

It’s opened up some key components to what training should look like. It’s not perfect and there are things that can and may be changed – in fact, I’m sure it will evolve as times goes. But overall, it’s a pretty good system to train in.

Has your training changed in light of the upcoming US games?

A: It’s mainly the same with a few extra changes, because I’m usually at the gym all day. However, my routine also depends on whether I’m training or coaching. I have my own team with which I train, who are equal to my training, and we go neck to neck, which makes it more challenging to train.

V: I also work as a Management Trainee at MAS, so I think my training has got a little more intense. I’m still doing the same routines within the same time frame, but I think I’m more focused on what might come for the games.

So I’ll jump into one of the normal classes, which takes about an hour, and I’ll stay for one more hour and get my extra training done after that.

Who were your role models throughout this process?

A: Growing up, Tiger Woods was my role model and everything I did was geared toward playing golf.

I think it’s just the attitude I developed alongside it which I took into crossfit.

V: I think my role model would be Julie Foucher, who qualified for the games while studying to be a doctor. She managed to balance work and crossfit, and I think that’s what I’m trying to do right now as well.

Do you have any advice for trainers and trainees of crossfit in Sri Lanka?

A: Professionalise. Take crossfit seriously and learn as much as you can about it. Be on time, be prepared, and invest in it wisely.


Photos: Krishan Kariyawasam