Strong.lk Caught up with Sri lanka’s own Thilina Chandrapala, who has had countless accolades as an ICN Pro athlete, with over 7 titles, being a state champion in the USA.
Thilina answers some life achieving questions on how he embarked his Fitness career.
- What was your initial motivation to get into fitness?
In school, I was always one of the skinniest kids. It was easy for people to push me around because I was such an unfit person. I would say that I wanted to change all this when I finished school back in 2007. I always had the imagination in my head that one day I won’t look the way I looked at that time. I had issues with the way I looked and was never happy about it. My weight at the time of leaving school was below 50kgs. In addition to that so many friends around me back then were much stronger and fitter than me. I was never consistent with any sort of sport so I was far behind fitness wise. When I finished my A/L’s one of my friends introduced me to a gym back in the day he was my initial inspiration. So, I believe that’s where my fitness journey started. At the start it was never easy. I don’t blame the people who laughed when I said I worked out because they had reasons to laugh. But I have one thing to say though, looks who’s laughing now.
- Who were your inspirations or role models you followed to stay motivated?
I don’t think I wouldn’t find anyone else other than my parents to have been my initial inspiration till this day – they are my number 1 role models. I’d say they made the biggest sacrifice when they decided to send me overseas for my higher studies, with me being the only child. However, I made sure the sacrifice they made didn’t go to waste. I completed my bachelors in Finance and Masters in Accounting.
When it came to fitness what fired me up at the start was the story of Sylvester Stallone, how he made sure he played the main role in the movie ‘Rocky’. The speech he gave his son in the 6th instalment of the series was so inspiring that I use that principle till this day. I remember every single word of that speech. ‘Life is not about how hard you hit it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward’. I couldn’t agree more with that speech because I have been in pain, lifting so much of heavy metal very recently. I was injured doing my favourite lift the deadlift. The recovery process was very painful and there wasn’t a single day I woke up without pain. I recovered recently and managed to come back stronger than I ever was because I kept moving forward rolled with the punches life gave me. Also, I remember 4 weeks before my last competition, I was sick badly but that didn’t stop me, I trained even harder and made sure I bought the best version of me to the stage. Because I believe if you are starting something you should go all the way otherwise you should never start.
- How did you maintain your diet and what was it like?
When I first started my journey back in 2007, I was never consistent with the nutrition or didn’t follow any sort of a diet. My whole focus was on lifting weights. It all changed in 2013 when I started training with my friend Hiran Badullage, who was my class mate in school. We both were at the opposite ends – I was the skinniest and he was the fattest. Very recently he did a photoshoot and I am really proud of the journey we both came since 2013. At school he was 95kg, but today he’s lighter than me at 57kg. .I would say hats off to that guy it was a ‘tale of fat to fit’.
My first step towards focusing on nutrition journey began with Hiran in 2013, a few days after I turned 25. I felt like life was going nowhere so I made the decision to do something where it required a lot of discipline and dedication. Because somewhere I heard a wise man said after the storm there’s always the rainbow, I was hungry to know how the rainbow would look like. All the diet plans we followed back then were never based on any sort of scientific research. Now when we look back at the nutrition back then we find lots and lots of mistakes. Because what we followed were never customised programs, they were all just online programs which were done by celebrities. More we grow I realised the fact that we are not any of those athletes or celebrities and what we should do is what really works for us, we should look at things from our perspective. It should be based on the individual. As we are Sri Lankan what works best for us is Sri Lankan food and nothing else. We made the mistake then of avoiding curries or using any Lankan spices when we did our meal preps, we actually thought they were bad. Now that we look at it we realise how stupid we were. In Sri Lanka, there’s so much resources we have which we don’t utilise and don’t see the value of.
I don’t regret any of the mistakes we did back then, if it wasn’t for those mistakes I wouldn’t have been able come this far in this journey. In 2015 my friend Hiran went through a metabolic slow down due to losing weight too fast within a shorter duration. He gained 1 kg within a week staying on calorie deficit and that’s when he decided to contact my current coach Gayan Perera. That’s where our nutrition started going in the right track. He taught us the correct procedure of how to get it done the right way. That’s where my journey with Gayan Perera actually began.
Each and every individual is different from one another. My current diet plan involves higher carb intake on off-season since my body is capable of handling a lot of carbs, due to my fast metabolism. Only if I am competing that’s when my carb intake goes low but I do eat a lot of veggies throughout the day. Biggest change my Coach did with diet was making me have red meat first thing in the day. That’s where the change began. It was a very difficult thing to follow at first, but I had enough will power to get the job done. I was willing to do whatever it takes, because at the time I developed 8 years of dedication and discipline and all I wanted was someone to show me the correct path. When I look back me and Hirean are glad that he went through that metabolic slow down if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have met Gayan Perera.
- Who are the people who motivated you to get into fitness?
My parents were very supportive whatever I did every struggle I had in my life they always supported me and told me not to give up but just keep on going. I am so lucky to have such a great supporting system around me which made things much easier for me.
However, getting in to fitness was my decision and it was the best decision I made for myself because it changed my life in the most amazing ways.
As always, I have to mention my Coach for the guidance he gave me through this journey, it was his guidance which got me to where I am today. I remember right after the first consultation I had with him he sent me a message saying “are you interested in doing a Photoshoot, I can get you there in 20-24 weeks’ time”. I was initially a little shocked because I never thought I was not in the shape for it. It came at a time where I had less belief in me because even though I have been training for a longer period of time there were still people who used to be my close friends were putting me down on a constant basis specially on social media, I was called of having a mental disorder and also there were some who said if I make fitness my lifestyle I will miss the important things in my life. Later what I realised was the fact that you can’t throw stones at every dog that barks if you want to reach your life’s destination just like Winston Churchill once said. Because at present day I am living my dream.
During those difficult times, there were two important friends who pushed me through and always gave me belief that I was great – that was Hiran and Anushka Thenuwara. Whatever I am today, where ever this journey is going to take me from here, the support I got from those two friends will never be forgotten for the rest of my life. Till this day they are my best gym buddies even though we follow different paths of training at present.
- How was your first competition and how did you go about it?
Before talking about my first competition, I think it’s important to mention that it was my friend who started the journey with me, was the one who first said that I should compete in the first place. When I first said that to my coach Gayan he said that would be a great idea and he will give his fullest support. So, we did an initial preparation for 6 months towards my first competition, it was in April 2016, the Federation I choose was ANB (Australian Natural Bodybuilding). To tell the truth, I never felt any nervousness before or during the competition because I knew I had nothing to lose. My coach told me that I did everything possible to be at my best shape at the competition and enjoy the day whatever happens. I did exactly that. I ended up winning first place and becoming ANB Men’s Fitness Novice Champion. Many told me not to stop from there but to keep competing more because they all believed that I had the potential to win more titles.
That was the first time I ever won something in my life that’s where my journey as a competitor began.
My coach knew I had the potential do more so he never let me settle down. So I competed again in end of May 2016 and ended up winning First Place in ANB Men’s Fitness under 30 Division. I had a competition exactly a week later in a different federation called INBA, I competed twice on the same day and ended up winning Men’s Fitness Novice and Overall at INBA Mornington Peninsular Titles – that was June 2016. He said winning overall is a big deal so he said let’s go State and bring the State Title home.
Then came preparation of 3 months for the State Titles, 7 weeks before the competition I came to Sri Lanka because in my mind I had some barrier to overcome which was to do the preparation from Sri Lanka because at the time many were of the view that it is a hard task as when you are at home you will be around the food you love 24/7. So, it took a lot of discipline to maintain the strict diet I was going through. There were times where I had watch people eat the usual breakfast like string hoppers, milk rice etc., when I had to just stare at it. To tell the truth, I didn’t feel weak watching it as my total focus was on winning the State of Victoria Title. The night before the competition when my parents told me that don’t worry son, you will win this; my reply was well there are 17 other competitors and that’s a big line up. When I felt depleted days before the competition I had this thought in my head that every other competitor is going to drag their asses to the finish line and they must be working hard so I said to myself ‘SO WILL I’.
I competed in two divisions that day, Men’s Fitness Novice and Overall and it was the day the most unexpected thing happened in my life where I won First Place in both divisions and ended up being the State Champion of Victoria. On the same day, I got awarded with the Pro Card and I became a Pro Athlete in the Federation. When I look back I can’t believe the journey I came through, all I can say is that it’s been one epic ride.
Since then, I did one more competition in June 2017 in Pukhet, Thailand. That was my first Pro Show where I won the third place at ICN World Championship. I thank my mum and dad who always told me to dream big to come this far and it’s just the beginning of my journey I will always be hungry for more.
- What are your long-term Plans in your fitness career?
Even though I have competed and won titles my passion has always been to change lives through body transformations of people and make people have a better life for themselves. Because I believe every single person in this whole planet deserves to be healthy and that should be their number one priority. I am currently working as an online and a one-on-one coach at Team New Start handling over 50 clients. I have made transformations and seeing the change of my clients and the journey they go through, gives me such a great feeling where I believe that’s my ultimate title.
I will always keep on competing as long as I can and as per long term goal I want to be a Transformation Specialist because I believe giving back what you did to someone else and making someone else’s life better is a satisfaction you can’t get from anything else.
- What advice do you have for anyone who are looking to start their bodybuilding career?
The biggest mistake many does is that at the beginning they focus way too much on the end goal. In my view, the end goal they want to achieve is a long journey, it’s something which would take a long time to achieve and it takes a lot of patience, dedication and discipline to get there. There’s definitely going to be so many struggles along the way they will have to overcome. My biggest advice I give to those who want to start their bodybuilding career would be is to enjoy the journey you’re going to go through and don’t be afraid to go through those struggles like I said earlier – stay hungry to know how the rainbow would look like after the storm. If you focus on what you do today and keep on pushing – one day your dream will be a reality. One final note no matter what you achieve never forget how you started and where you started, always stay humble.