• From hoops to heels

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    At pre-judging event, Miss Earth Sri Lanka met with The Sunday Times Magazine wearing the Sri Lankan national costume. PHOTO BY ALEXIS CORPUZ

    _Miss Earth Sri Lanka 2013 conquers both worlds

    A 2013 Miss Earth pageant on December 7 brought 88 of the most beautiful ladies from all over the world to the Philippines. In representing their own countries, besides their environmental advocacies, the candidates took pride in their own unique culture and background.

    One such candidate, who The Sunday Times Magazine had the pleasure to meet, was Miss Earth-Sri Lanka Solange Kristina Gunawijeya. Though busy during the pre-judging program at the F1 Hotel in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, she graciously took time to sit down for a one-on-one interview, and reveal more about herself sans the gowns and her sash.

    As many beautiful, towering ladies scuttled about to prepare for the important activity that Thursday afternoon, Solange, as she would like to be called, comfortably shared her little-less-glamorous side dressed in her blue sari, the Sri Lankan national costume.

    “I am Solange Kristina Gunawijeya, 22 years old. I play for the national basketball team of Sri Lanka, and also for the Sri Lankan Navy basketball team,” she said when asked to talk about herself. “I am also studying Chartered Institute of Management Accountancy [CIMA], and now I am representing my country in the Miss Earth pageant.”

    It was bound to be an interesting interview with the 5’8”-title holder.

    Making history
    Besides being the youngest basketball player to join Sri Lanka’s national team at age 14, Solange made another mark in her country’s history when she won the Derana Veet Miss Sri Lanka 2013 title on July 31. This is considered the biggest beauty pageant in the Sri Lankan island-country located in the Northern Indian Ocean.

    Although the pageant has been running for the past six years, it was the first time to have an international beauty title holder to crown Sri Lanka’s winner, and that was Miss Earth 2012 Tereza Fajksová who gave that honor to Solange during the grand finals.

    “I am very lucky to be the first candidate to receive the crown from an international beauty queen because we never get to have international beauty queens in the country too often,” Solange enthused.

    According to the humble lady, it was by sheer luck that she won the Miss Earth Sri Lanka crown. Appa-rently, Solange had never joined any beauty pageants before Derana Veet Miss Sri Lanka, and neither had plans to do so until her mother and sister secretly submitted her application to the organizers. Such was her surprise when she received a call from TV Derana, which was behind the pageant, during basketball practice.

    “I told them that I didn’t join, that I didn’t submit any application, and that they must have gotten it wrong. But they told me they had my photographs and my information and I should attend the orientation,” Solange shared laughing.

    “I was really surprised. I told them, I’m dark and I’m ugly, but they said that I was very pretty and should really consider joining. When I got home I told my mother off, saying, ‘Why did you do that?’ But it had always been my mother’s wish for me to join a beauty contest, and with the encouragement of family and friends, I went for it,” she continued.

    She was conscious to join being Tamil, or dark-skinned, since it was usually the fair-skinned Sinhalese who were considered beautiful in her country. With this in mind, and her lack of experience in any kind of pageant other than sports, she was sure she wasn’t even going to make past the screening. But—again—to her surprise, she made her way to the top 100, until finally, the top 10.

    “There are five titles given in the competition: the winner, Miss Earth, the Globe International, Intercontinental, Tourism, and Top Model of the World, which I also won. My target was to win Top Model, and after my name was called, I was like ‘OK, I won’t win the crown anymore’ and it was fine with me. So it was really a shock for me when I won again.  I was literally jumping and shouting,” Solange happily recalled.

    Facing challenges
    “I didn’t know how to walk like a lady, sit like a lady, talk like a lady, and be like a lady. I didn’t even know how to put makeup on!” Solange exclaimed, enumerating all the challenges she had to face as a pageant newcomer.

    “It was also hard to go to basketball practice and at the same time participate in the pageant activities. I’d go from hours of basketball straight to the pageant with a quick wash-up, pageant, even when every part of my body was aching. I had to do that about for three months until coronation night.”

    Hard as it was, Solange managed to balance her studies, her basketball career, her pageant duties, as well as a long-distance relationship with her Sri Lankan boyfriend who works in Italy. She credits the support of her family in helping her pull off the feat.

    “When I have free time, I see to it that I practice at home. I smile in front of the mirror, I walk with a book on my head, and I also learned a lot from the trainings conducted during the pageant. But no, I didn’t have a personal trainer. I just practice everything from putting on makeup to speaking in front of the mirror by myself,” said Solange, who calls the small town of Rukmalgama her home.

    “One of my biggest challenges was that I was camera-shy. I didn’t notice this at first, but when I saw myself on TV I realized that it was so obvious, so I had to gain more confidence really quickly,” she added.

    Back to the ballgame
    Asked what she would do after the pageant, Solange replied she will continue on doing what she loves best: basketball.

    “I have been playing basketball since I was eight. I love basketball,” she firmly said. As for being a beauty queen, “Miss Earth is not just about beauty, it’s also about taking care of the environment, which I will continue.”

    Her advocacy is to “save the water, save the earth, not for you but for the future generation.” She is also against animal caging, which she will to fight for when she returns to her native Sri Lanka.

    For Solange, her “once in a lifetime” experience is all the more meaningful because her win in her country breached racial discrimination. This, even after she received negative criticisms for her color as Miss Earth Sri Lanka, even though most of her countrymen are Tamils.

    As she repeated to The Sunday Times Magazine from her interview with a Sri Lankan newspaper, “Everyone associates beauty with being fair but it’s more than that. Everyone has their own opinion about beauty competitions and on what beauty is, but I think I made a difference. I broke the color barrier.”

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