Shivank Vijaykumar, Sarra Lajnef honoured
Gilchrist inspires UOWD’s two aspiring athletes to aim high
The two worthy winners at the University of Wollongong in Dubai’s (UOWD’s) third annual sports awards here on Sunday say the recognition has only served to spur on their long-held desire to fulfil their undoubted potential.
Olympic swimmer Sarra Lajnef, from Tunisia, and Indian top-order wicket-keeper/batsman Shivank Vijaykumar received their respective accolades from the man they are named after, the Australian cricketing legend Adam Gilchrist, at a special scholarship ceremony at the campus yesterday.
The occasion was a momentous and special one for Vijaykumar, who - having followed Gilchrist’s glittering career from an early age - could never have imagined he’d meet his childhood hero in such circumstances.
“Today has been like a dream come true for me,” said the Bachelor of Engineering student, who has his sights set on establishing himself in Aaqib Javed’s new-look UAE squad.
“I took up the gloves because of Adam Gilchrist and, throughout all of my childhood, I used to watch him keep wicket to try and emulate him.
“I couldn’t believe it when he walked up the stairs, shook my hand and knew my name and now, having received an award from him, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
A product of the MCC Zayed Cricket Academy, Vijaykumar has been a mainstay in the UAE U19 squad for the past four years and he is now knocking hard on the door for selection to the senior side.
“I’d love to keep playing international tournaments for the UAE,” Vijaykumar commented.
“My aim would be to get into that full side and keep playing there. Hopefully, I’ll do well and be an asset for the team to help show that UAE cricket has even more to offer.
“It’s about time that some fresh legs came in and showed that our cricket is of international standard on the global stage.”
Lajnef meanwhile saw the recognition as a further morale boost in her bid to qualify for next year’s Rio Olympics.
The 26-year-old has rediscovered her love for swimming of late after a lack of support from the Tunisian Swimming Federation left her questioning her future in the sport.
She hasn’t exactly looked back on her decision either, winning one gold medal and three silvers at the FINA World Masters Championships in Kazan, Russia last month in what was a make-or-break event for her career.
“I was like: ‘No. I need to get back.’ I felt like something was not done and I needed to do something more,” she reflected.
“I decided to get back into training in mid-May. I trained for two and a half months and then went to the Masters.
“It’s a good start, although it’s not really about the medals but the times that I managed, which were not far from the ones I did last year when I was training and tapering.
“That’s encouraging for me and now I’m just going to focus on the 100m breaststroke and 200m IM (Individual Medley) to qualify for the Olympics.”
Both Lajnef – who is studying for a Masters in International Business – and Vijaykumar can now avail a 50 per cent bursary on their total tuition fees at UOWD, providing they continue to represent both the university and their emirate/state or country on a regular basis.
They also have this week to ask for any advice or guidance from Gilchrist, who will be meeting UOWD staff, students, alumni and schoolchildren for Q&A sessions, leadership debates and autograph signing sessions to celebrate the start of the new academic year.
“I hope to be able to pass on a few tips to both of them to help them to further their sporting careers,” commented the cricketing great, who was recently appointed as an inaugural ambassador to India on education by the Australian government.
“It is an honour to have an award in my name, which both encourages and enables students to combine their passion for sport with a top-class education.”
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