Millions of kids and teens dominate the streets every day in all sports and disciplines. Whether that be football, basketball or cricket, anything that gives them the freedom to walk outside, pick up a ball and get their hands dirty. We all know the Neymar’s and Omar Abdul Rahman’s of the world but who were they before they were noticed on a regional and international level? Surely, they were on the streets and academies putting in a shift, dazzling coaches and onlookers with their incredible talent, making sure their dreams could became a reality.
I’m on a mission to find out the best unknown talent the Emirates has to offer with a series of interviews and stories to captivate and show the strength of the UAE’s outstanding talent that have yet to be tapped into. Regardless of background or discipline, the aim is to shine some light on these talented individuals who deserve their story to be read by many.
My first athlete is an incredibly gifted girl who lights up the court with every game. This bright and talented individual has captured the hearts and mind of her peers, family and friends every time she steps on to the court. Hailing from the spectacular tropical island of Sri Lanka. Shalika Elizabeth has a wealth of amateur experience ranging from the local parks to the first team of the Sharjah Ladies Club at the age of 21. Let’s start from the beginning and see where she started and aims to be in the years to come.
Shalika took an interest in basketball during her secondary school years as a hobby, something she would do her in free time to keep active and fit. Little did she know that it would soon become an integral part of her life. What started as a hobby gave her an outlet for her pent up anger and frustration during a turbulent part of her life she faced on a daily basis. She almost credits her early struggles as her of love story with court gave her access to express herself.
“It wasn’t something I’d be so emotionally invested in until I went through a few hardships in my last year of school. It became a way to escape my life problems I was facing and eventually I fell in love with the sport and I’m grateful to God for where I am today.”
Raising Her Game
Needing to take her game to the next level she elevated herself to the streets; specifically a local place in her area called Al Nahda Pond Park, where she truly started the grind towards becoming the baller she is today. Her commitment levels were through the roof through playing matches from 3PM to 10PM every evening. Although, her days at the park were not without adversity. Shalika recalls many a moment where she was asked to leave the court because of her gender and not good enough for the self-proclaimed kings of the court. With a never back down attitude she managed to improve her technical ability keeping her rightful place on the court.
A few summers later Shalika moved to study at Herriot Watt University in Dubai. One of her first moves (quite naturally so!) was to try out for the college basketball team. She recalls her first day of training, the intensity and a natural nervousness in the air, given that everyone was out to impress. Given her high personal standards, Shalika was not expecting her first game to go as poorly as it did but as season worn on, she adjusted and bonded with her team to create chemistry leading to multiple titles over her college years.
The young star’s fairytale ride came to an end when she graduated and realized that she couldn’t continue playing in the concrete jungle. She needed to climb the local ladder and be on par with the best the Emirates has to offer. Shalika enquired about the possibility of playing at the Sharjah Ladies Club and the rest is history. This chance gave her the opportunity to play alongside the best the talent in the United Arab Emirates and Women’s National Basketball Association from the U.S. Alexis HornBuckle was one of the names to grace the UAE’s courts and give her sound lifetime advice. Once again, adversity stood in the way of her journey as she explains:
“It has been almost a year now since I joined and even though I may not be able to play as many tournaments as I would like to with this team as most of the tournaments are only for locals, I still enjoy attending practice and their games to support my new basketball family.”
To conclude the interview, I asked her what motivates her to pursue a career in basketball, what keeps the ember burning alive and this is what she had to say:
“Well my motivation is to really get better as a player because I feel this sport has really shaped me as a person. It has allowed me to tolerate my weaknesses and taught me how to use my strengths. Thanks to my ball buddies and Coach Ron, I’ve definitely improved myself although I know I could be doing better. My main role model would be Diana Taurasi, just the way she plays and how she effects the game every time she’s on the court is so inspiring. Other players like Maya Moore, Simone Augustus and Kelsey Plum further inspire me to be a better basketball player.”
Shalika has a solid support system with her friends and family supporting her every move and decision, by attending matches and motivating her to fulfill her potential to the best of her ability. Even though, women’s sport is still up and coming in the U.A.E and does not have enough exposure, it’s gaining traction. Nike’s new ad campaign has credited the women of the Emirates who have combined and created a blend of culture and sport. Shalika is one of the many girls who strive to not only make it to the international stage but leave a legacy in the local region, setting an example for many young girls who can have role model’s who radiate determination, commitment and a strong work ethos.
To keep track of her journey and see how far she’s come and how far her potential will take her, you can find Shalika on the following social media platforms: