Khalid Oshman (38) lost his eyesight 12 years ago. “I had hit rock bottom and didn’t know what to do with my life. I had suicidal thoughts and almost attempted to end my life,” he said.
However, it was his cousin, Siddiq Ahmed, who motivated him. “He told me that I could live a normal life despite my disability. He told me: ‘You can change lives. Do something that will make an impact on everyone’s lives.’ This inspired me to start mobility training, which allowed me to be independent using the white cane,” he said.
“I wasn’t a sporty person when I was young but I always had an interest towards doing charity services,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why I worked for the Red Cross for five years. But eventually, the loss of my eyesight led to me losing my job. I tried to get a new job but I was turned down due to my disability. I would have gone to at least 30-40 companies for job interviews.”
Oshman currently works as a customer service officer at the SriLankan Airlines Aviation College in Katunayake. He assists students in the cabin crew, ticketing programs and aircraft engineering programs. “I use a computer with special software that assists me with my daily work. Even my phone is specially customised for my needs,” he said.
The first months of mobility training were gruelling, Oshman said. “I have fallen down from buses, I have slipped into drains. But the more I got knocked down, I was able to learn from it.”
In 2013, Oshman took part in the ‘Run for Their Lives’ charity run for the first time and ever since then, he has been running and has taken part in multiple charity events.
That same year, he took up swimming as well. “I don’t want to be separated as a person with a disability,” he said.
“I went to a lot of coaches, asking them to train me,” he said. “But no one wanted to take the risk of coaching me. Except for Julian Bolling.” Bolling, a medal-winning swimmer who has represented the country multiple times, immediately agreed to train Oshman. “That year itself I took part in the para-national meet and won the 100m bronze medal. He also made me swim at meets like Masters Indoor Swimming competitions and he allowed me to participate with regular people. This gave me the confidence to compete with anyone and not just with para-athletes. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to be separated as a person with a disability. When I competed with them, I wanted them to embrace me as a regular athlete. I don’t want their sympathy, but only needed their support.”
In addition to everything, Oshman runs marathons and plays boxing and cricket. He was selected for the Blind Cricket T20 World Cup in 2017. ”Among 200 players I was selected for the final squad to represent Sri Lanka,” he said. “I got to play a few games during the tournament. I got the opportunity last year to represent Sri Lanka in the 2023 Blind Cricket T20 World Cup as well.”
However, the biggest turning point in his life came in 2018 when he was introduced to the IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon – an international competition that consisted of a 1.9km sea swim, a 90km bicycle ride and a 21.1km marathon run.
“One of my colleagues introduced me to coach Denis Crassier, who specialises in training people for the IRONMAN challenge,” he said. “I met him for the first time in 2108 and his initial response wasn’t very positive. There were only 50 days left before the event and he wasn’t sure that I would be ready for it by that time.
“But I didn’t give up because there was no harm in trying. Within a month I was required to reduce my body weight from 85kg to 75kg. For one month, I also had to train for 2-3 hours after work every day. After one month, he would assess my performance in cycling, swimming and running and only if he was satisfied with my performance, he would give his approval to participate. After cutting down on eating rice and fueling it with fruit juices, I was able to achieve the target weight. Also, I trained as promised and was able to pass his test and finally, I got his nod to participate in the IRONMAN challenge. Now I needed a partner to run.”
Because of his disability, Oshman requires a partner to take part in the event. His first partner was Shaki Edirisinghe, who also coached him in swimming in the sea. “I hadn’t swum in the sea before. But with his guidance, I was able to learn the techniques to swim in sync,” he said.
“The goal is to complete the challenge in six hours or less. When I managed to do everything in seven hours in the final event, it was a life-changing moment for me.”
“I have completed three IRONMAN events up to now. Two of them in Colombo and one in Goa, India. The one in Vietnam will be my fourth. I have also completed three marathons, the LSR Colombo marathon, the Paris Marathon and the Singapore Marathon. My goal right now is to complete ten IRONMAN challenges and ten marathons.”
Mithun Liyanage, athlete and Oshman’s current coach said: “Sports has taught me to be disciplined. This is my way of giving back what I learned. When we run, he supports me more than I help him. Running alongside Khalid has been therapeutic.” Oshman and Mithun will take part in the IRONMAN 70.3 event happening in Vietnam next month.