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Beefy's Big Sri Lanka Walk: Sir Ian Botham finishes mammoth eight-day walk

Beefy completes his Sri Lankan challenge

Botham: Recovering after his Sri Lanka exploits

Sir Ian Botham crossed the finish line of his Big Sri Lanka Walk on the lush outfield of the Seenigama Oval and embraced Kushil Gunasekera, a man who turns disaster into dreams.

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, which claimed thousands of lives along the coast including 120 in Seenigama, Gunasekera established a new community centre in his ancestral home which now provides medical, educational and training opportunities to around 50 villages.

"What we've achieved here means a lot to me."

Sir Ian Botham

Backed by the MCC, the Centre of Excellence sits at the heart of the Seenigama Sport for Life project, run by Gunasekera's charity, the Foundation for Goodness, which will receive at least £50k of the £130k already raised through Botham's 16th charity walk.

After walking 125 gruelling miles in eight days, Botham paid tribute to Gunasekera's vision and re-iterated his desire to replicate the Seenigama campus in the war-ravaged Mankulam.

"What we've achieved here means a lot to me," said Botham. "Kushil and his team have created something that is quite remarkable when you think of the devastation that was here when I first came to look around. It was mind-blowing. They were still finding bodies in the jungle.

"Kushil has made a lot of personal sacrifices to achieve his goal; he really should be up for a Nobel Peace Prize because of the amount of lives he's changed on this coastline! He's a remarkable man. The project is flourishing here so now we start on the one in the north."

Happiness

Gunasekera remembers Boxing Day 2004 only too well. When a three foot wave swept through Seenigama, he frantically sought out his children and like many of his fellow villagers made for higher ground.

Botham completes walk

But hundreds of others sought refuge in a nearby train and many were swept to their deaths some 20 minutes later by a 12 foot wall of water. A haunting reminder of the tragedy is etched on a wall in the Centre of Excellence, where the extreme water mark is still visible. It's a smudge that spurs him on daily.

"When we were completely devastated nine years ago, Sir Ian Botham came with Laureus and since then we've empowered thousands and thousands of children to make better progress," said Gunasekera, now an Honorary Life Member of the MCC.

"I think helping others is real happiness. In life we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. We thank Sir Ian Botham and his team for every inch of their walk."

Tough

For much of Friday's eighth and final leg, Botham and his accompanying entourage streamed along the coastal route behind Sri Lankan Test legend Muttiah Muralitharan.

The former spinner, who claimed 800 Test wickets, has been at the forefront of the Foundation of Goodness' drive to rebuild Seenigama and he stressed the importance of Botham's contribution.

"It's been great having Sir Ian walking in Sri Lanka - it's something that has never happened before in this country," said Muralitharan, who played in a Twenty20 match to mark the official opening of the Seenigama Oval in December 2007.

"From our hearts, this is something we never expected but it has become a reality.

"Today was very tough because we went at around 7km/h. The walks have been a little bit harder because of the humidity but Sir Ian has done a great job. Hopefully he will walk at least one more time in this country!"

Self-sustainable

Before the tsunami destroyed the nearby reef, many villagers found employment through diving for coral and preparing it for retail.

However, the Centre's schooling and training programmes have been so successful that Laureus ambassador and former South African rugby union captain Morne du Plessis says Seenigama is more than ready to stand on its own two feet.

"This is goodness at its core definition," he said. "This complex is about using sport as a positive influence but also about bringing benefits to the wider community. The kids here have incredible discipline but there is joy on their faces.

"The goal now is for the community to be self-sustainable and they are outsourcing a lot of their IT skills. This project is really mature and we're now looking to replicate it in the north with the emphasis on reconciliation, whereas this was an exercise in rehabilitation."

Botham, himself, has little time to rehabilitate "under a palm tree" at the Chaaya Tranz hotel, Hikkaduwa, before flying out to Australia on Saturday to cover the upcoming Ashes for Sky Sports.

Having started training for this walk back in May, the former all-rounder says he's as fit as he's been in 30 years and is already looking forward to the next challenge.

"The Australians in our group were pretty ordinary at walking, actually, with the exception of Allan Border, who was magnificent today, and Steve Waugh - although I dread to think what state his feet are in!

"But I'm really pleased with how it has gone and I feel good. The next walk may be in Argentina, but that's another story..."

To donate to Beefy's fund-raising effort simply visit www.justgiving.com/BeefysSriLankaWalk

Check out a gallery of Beefy's Big Sri Lanka Walk here.

Check out a gallery of Beefy's walks here.

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