- rock climber, foodie, advocates gender equality
Sri Lankans are known for their cricket prowess, their achievements
in Olympian athletics and, even billiards at one time, but, in a country
in which the highest point is just over 8,000 feet above sea level and
no history of mountaineering, who would have expected a world class
alpine mountaineering duo to emerge? With no prior fanfare, Jayanthi
Kuru-Utumpala and Johann Peries literally burst on to the national stage
with their conquest of the world's highest peak, Mount Everest.
What made these two Sri Lankans dream of such heights of achievement?
By now, our readers know of their great mountaineering adventure and,
are beginning to learn of the immense physical and mental challenges
they surmounted in their historic mission to be the first Sri Lankans to
reach 29,028 feet or 8,850 metres above sea level.
Who are Jayanthi and Johann as persons, as ordinary Sri Lankans
leading lives just as other Sri Lankans do?
The Sunday Observer, which first broke the news of their planned
mission to Everest and reported their difficult progress through the
towering Himalayan ranges, and their final triumph, last week met up
with the duo personally to introduce them better to our readers as young
Sri Lankans with dreams and the vigour to achieve them.
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala is an independent young professional who has
worked as a journalist briefly before moving on to research and advocacy
on social issues close to her heart. Also close to her heart is the
great outdoors and much of this island's mountain peaks have been
explored and climbed by this small-made, slim but muscular young woman.
Jayanthi is equally at home among steep, rocky cliffs and, as an
advocacy professional, in the meeting rooms of international
organisations, including the United Nations.
Tell us about your childhood - the schools you went to and your
As a child I loved sports. I have an older brother and I used to do
everything he did. If he climbed a tree I also would do that. We built
tree house, played cricket like normal kids. I went to Bishop's College
and I took part in quite a lot of sport when I was schooling. I played
tennis for my school.
How supportive are your parents of your adventurous life?
My father passed away two years ago. He worked for a private firm. He
was a major inspiration for me. He allowed me to do adventure sports. My
mother was working before she had us but later she gave up on her job
and was fully committed to our upringing.
are quite supportive, be it my work or adventure sports. There is a lot
of danger and risks involved in the sports I am doing. For example,
white water rafting, rock climbing. Mom was worried. But dad let me do
it. They did not block my desire to do adventure sports and they allowed
me to be me for which I am forever grateful.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, I have an elder brother. He works as senior marketing manager in
the corporate sector.
What is your profession?
I am working in the field of gender equality. I am involved in
projects to raise awareness on violence against women. I worked for the
Women and Media Collective for ten years. I learnt so much during that
period. Then I worked at CARE International and continued doing the same
kind of work thereafter. Previously, I was a journalist for some time.
You talk about gender equality. What exactly you mean by that?
There are barriers faced by women. Those are mostly rules imposed by
society. They expect women to do certain jobs, engage in certain sports
and behave in a certain way. When I say 'gender equality' what I mean is
that despite one's gender, anyone should be able to do anything they
want. I am working to achieve that equality. And I hope that more women
will take part in adventure sports.
What are your hobbies?
I like travelling. I like the beach quite a bit. Getting out of
Colombo and heading south is one of my favourite things to do whenever I
have free time. I also like to try new food, various food cultures. I am
particularly fond of Sri Lankan cuisine. I like cooking as well, which I
do on and off.
With all this, do you have time for books?
Yes, I am interested in reading books. I read books in my free time.
I am particularly fond of comic novels and graphic novels.
Music? What type do you listen to?
I like quite a range of music - mostly songs of the 1950s, 60s and
80s. I love music from that era a lot. But I am not much into rock music
and hard core heavy metal.
What are your favourite movies? Can you name a few? Why those in
I like "based on true story" kind of movies. Movies like Billy
Elliot, Flashdance are among my favourites. I like musicals as well,
especially Brent, Chicago.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I go cycling with friends and other times I would like to just sit at
home read a book, watch a movie to relax. I do hangout with my friends
whenever I am free. That is something I really enjoy.
How do you start your average day? Is there a specific time you
usually wake up?
I am actually not a 'morning person'. For sports I don't mind waking
up early. Usually I wake up around 6.30 a.m., then go cycling and after
having breakfast I am off to work by 8.30.
Did you see the cartoon Amantha Attygalle drew? How did you like it?
Your thoughts on that?
I was actually overwhelmed. I love his work anyways. I think he is
one of the best cartoonists we have in the country. Gender is not a
barrier. I think that is what he was trying to say. I took it all
positively. I read it positively. I do not know how other people
interpreted it. But I am glad to be a cartoon of his.
You have broken all stereotypes. How do you feel about that? Do you
think people are now more open minded and ready to accept this kind of
achievement by women?
Well, I would not say that people's attitudes have changed
completely. But their way of thinking is changing and there is a lot of
hope. The responses we got since we came back are very encouraging.
People congratulated us and were truly happy for our achievement. They
did not care what my gender is. People accepted me for who I am. I wish
to see more hope, respect and space for women especially in sports. This
is a good thing.
What causes do you support/wish to support?
The main cause of which I have been a part is Women's Rights. Other
than that I also support gender equality and I campaign against violence
against women as well. A lot of work is yet to be done with regard to
all these social issues.
What is your next adventure? Have you thought about it?
Well, not really. We have not thought of anything like that yet. We
need some time off and then may be in another year or two we will
possibly go back to the Himalayas or some other mountain. But for the
time being no plans as yet.
How would you like to be remembered as? Other than as the first Sri
Lankan to summit Mount Everest)
I want to be remembered as a person who lived and followed her dream
I want to be an inspiration for others. I believe that if you have a
dream, you should make that true by working hard towards it. And if you
put your mind to it anyone can do anything. It is in the mind really. It
is a mind game. If you have a strong mind then achieving what you want
in life is not difficult. It's something I learnt and practiced during
this expedition as well. You have no idea what so much of positive
thinking can do. Also team work is something you should practice.