Most folks wouldn’t think of trying to be graceful walking on a four-inch-wide wood beam. It would be more than enough just to make it from one side to the other, regardless of how they looked.
Not so for Nilasha Kurukulasuriya from Porter Ranch, who only took up performing on the challenging balance beam and doing other artistic gymnastics three years ago.
“It’s a little scary, but I’ve overcome my fear,” she tells this Tidings journalist. “And if you fall off, you just get right back on it. That’s what I was taught.”
Last year that moxie paid off. The 21-year-old woman won five — yes, five — gold medals competing in the regional Special Olympics here in Southern California. She took home the gold in four gymnastic events: balance beam, floor, parallel bars and vault. For those stellar efforts, she was also awarded gold in overall best.
Then her name went into a gold-medalist pool, where she was picked to compete in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, which kicks off in Los Angeles July 25 and concludes Aug. 2. Special Olympics provides youths and adults with intellectual disabilities the chance to play competitive sports year-round.
Nilasha will compete in all four women’s artistic gymnastic events July 30 at UCLA. Her personal favorites are the balance beam and floor routine.
“I like both,” she says with an easy smile. “I’ve been practicing for a long time. I started gymnastics three years ago. I only knew a little bit about it when I watched it on TV. I like the dancing. I like the music. I like the costumes. And I wanted to compete in World because I wanted to meet other athletes from different states, other countries. I want to get to know everyone.
“And I’m looking forward to seeing friends I’ve made from California’s different regions. We’re all going to a training camp at UC Riverside this week before the Olympics, too. That’ll be cool.”
But Nilasha isn’t some single-minded SoCal jock who’s let her education slide. She’s been going to Pierce College in Woodland Hills for four years, taking a variety of classes, including music, math, English and dance. She’s settled on early child development, however, needing only a couple classes to earn a certificate in the concentration.
“After Pierce I want to work with 3-to-5-year-olds,” she says. “Yep.”
The young woman also likes to travel and watch movies. “Dirty Dancing” is a special favorite, along with “The Princess Diaries,” “Leap Year,” “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Pride and Prejudice.”
“I also like singing,” she reports. “I like watching plays. I like baking, too, especially cakes and pudding.” After some rethinking, she adds, “Cooking is OK, but cleaning up after …”
Regarding gymnastics, her parents at first were a little “Should she do it, should she not?” according to Nilasha. They quickly came around, however, to being her strongest steadfast supporters. And, of course, they’ll be at UCLA cheering her on.
“That will be cool,” she notes with a grin. “I’ve heard UCLA is the number one venue.”
Nilasha believes competing in the Special Olympics — at the regional and now world level — has helped her become a more compassionate human being. How she finishes in events isn’t what really matters.
“It’s good cheering for the other athletes whether they win or lose,” she points out. “If they lose, you comfort them, saying, ‘It’s OK. Better luck next time.’ So win or lose at World, I’ll have fun. It’s going to be cool.”