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Life and times in sport

Major General C. Thurairaja was a sporting superstar

by Premasara Epasinghe

There are many sportsmen who take part in many sports disciplines but very rarely, they become versatile sportsmen.

Today, I am featuring a superstar. He is a triple international in basketball, badminton and golf. Further, he is the only sportsman in the history of Sri Lanka, and in South East Asia, who has represented the country in two sports disciplines at the Asian Games-in 1966 and in 1982 in basketball and golf respectively.

He is none other than that charming, pleasant and unassuming sporting doctor of Sri Lanka retired Major General Chelliah Thurairaja.

Major General Chelliah Thurairaja

Thurai, was a Royalist. He was not only an outstanding sportsman, but also a brilliant student. At Royal, he excelled in cricket, rugby football, basketball, badminton, athletics and boxing and won colours in four disciplines. By any standard it's a great achievement. He was a brilliant all-round student.

After a brilliant academic and sports career at Royal College, he shone as a star as a medical student of the University of Ceylon.

In 1961-'62, he was adjudged as the University sportsman of the year which undoubtedly is a rare achievement.

He was a fine athlete, who excelled in 400 metres and triple jump. Further, he was a fine tennis player.

Dr. Thurairaja captained the Sri Lanka basketball team. He was a fine ruggerite, who represented Royal, under the captaincy of late C. V. Gooneratne, who was the Minister of Industrial Development.

Later, Dr. Thurairaja represented the University and played for Havelocks under the captaincy of Dr. Hubert Aloysius in 1961. That year, Havelocks won the Clifford Cup. He played international rugby against the Combined Universities and Barbarians as a member of the Defence Services rugby team.

Dr. Thurairaja is a highly qualified Consultant Radiologist. He was a consultant in sports medicine too, and was the President of the Sri Lanka Sports Medicine Association.

I questioned about his family background.

"My beloved father was from Jaffna and my mother was from Singapore. My father's name is E. P. Chelliah and my mother's name is Ponnamma. Ours is a big family - five brothers and three sisters.

His elder sister was married to T. Kandasamy, who was the Master-in-charge of cricket and Prefect of Games at Nalanda from 1947 to 1958. He was my 'guru' too.

Late Mr. Kandasamy ushered in the golden era of Nalanda cricket. He was responsible in putting Nalanda cricket in the international map by producing Stanley Jayasinghe in the early 1950s.

Dr. Thurairaja hails from a sporting family. His father was a fine tennis player. Even at the age of 80, he took part in the National Tennis Championships. His elder brother C. Chellaraj was an outstanding Thomian cricketer, who later represented Nondescript Cricket Club (NCC) with distinction. His two brothers - C. Ponnaraja and C. Ragunathan were fine tennis players.

He won his first Sri Lanka colours in 1959, in basketball. It was a memorable achievement. He captained the team, which comprised of V. Sriskandaraja, S. Jesudasan (University of Ceylon), Rohan de S. Daluwatta who became the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army later. Valerian Fernando of St. Joseph's College, Colombo is also another team member.

Sports was something very special to him. It was something dear and near to his heart. One of the reasons for him to join the Sri Lanka Army was that he thought he will have more opportunities to pursue his sports career.

He joined the Sri Lanka Army Medical Corp in 1961, and became the Head of the Medical Corp and Director - Army Medical Services and finally became the Medical Advisor to the Sri Lanka Army. He retired in 1998 as a Major General.

Some of his contemporaries were Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Sena de Silva, M. D. Fernando, S. L. B. Rosa, Sarath Wijesinghe, H. K. Karunaratne etc.

Recalling his Army days, he said, "Once you join the Army, it becomes a way of life. Dedication, discipline, commitment are some of the qualities that you should possess. For a good soldier, there are no scheduled working hours.

For me, the most satisfying experience was to see the soldiers who lost their limbs in the battle front, walking again. The great satisfaction that I gain in treating the sick cannot be expressed in words. It is a great joy and an experience.

He was very much interested in sports medicine. In 1968, during the V. A. Sugathadasa's era, a Sports Medicine Unit was started and he was the youngest member of the unit. He helped many sportsmen and sportswomen.

Later he was the Vice-President of Asian Federation of Sports Medicine and an Executive Committee Member of the International Federation of Sports Medicine.

Dr. Thurairaja published four manuals on sports medicine, which is undoubtedly is a landmark in this field. The Education Commission of IFSM published the teaching manual for team physicians. This is the text for all doctors who wants to qualify in Sports Medicine.

Further, Dr. Thurairaja is a accredited resource person and a lecturer for all sports medicine courses in the entire region, which includes the Gulf States, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Bangladesh, Korea, Hong-Kong and China.

The sixth Asian Congress of Sports Medicine was held in 2003 in Sri Lanka for the first time at which Dr. Thurairaja was the Chairman of the Organising Committee.

Hundred and seventy two Sri Lankan doctors were certified as team physicians, because the FIMS course was held along with the congress.

Gold medallist

Dr. Thurairaja brought honour and glory to Sri Lanka at the World Masters Games 2002, held in Australia by winning the gold medal in golf.

Asian Games contingent team captain

He was earlier, the Asian Games contingent team captain in 1982.

I kindly requested him to give some advice to the up and coming sportsmen and sportswomen.

"To achieve greatness in sports, I feel three ingredients are essential. Sweat, toil and blood. Practice is very necessary. You may be talented, but you must be strong in your will power. The skill and mental approach is very important. You must be able to cope with certain amount of pressure.

One thing that is lacking among our sportsmen and sportswomen are that they do not train properly. I think our coaches should be accountable for this lapse.

"Those who train must develop their power speed, agility, balance. For any sports balance is a must," stated Dr. Thurairaja.

His beloved wife Loret is a tower of inspiration to this gentle doctor. Two daughters are Leisha and Michelle. Leisha played golf for Sri Lanka like her illustrious father.

Presently, Dr. Thurairaja is attached to Oasis Private Hospital, Colombo as a family physician and a sports medicine consultant.

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