Milton Keynes gymnastics coach and protege stranded on 'paradise island' by coronavirus pandemic

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A well-known gymnastics coach is stranded in 'paradise' in Sri Lanka after flying out on a charity mission.

Al Armitage flew out on March 10 to help set up a gymnastics and swimming teacher facility for children in the southern province.

He was accompanied by his former pupil, 20-year-old Sophie Fretwell, who took time out from her university studies to volunteer.

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"I had the perfect window to help. I wanted to give Al something back after the 17 years he has given me," said Sophie.

Sophie and Al with a local childSophie and Al with a local child
Sophie and Al with a local child

However. the pair's timing proved far from perfect and they arrived just as Sri Lanka was slapped under curfew due to the coronavirus crisis.

Their airline, Emirates, suddenly stopped flying and all the accommodation they had booked was cancelled, forcing them to settle in staying one place, an area called Dalawella beach.

"Luckily it’s a dream like location, a small horseshoe-shaped white sandy bay with palm trees leaning over it, swaying gently in the 33 degrees breeze," said Al.

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"There's not a single soul to be seen. It makes it appear like the two of use are indeed castaways," he added. "Sri Lanka is not the worst place in the world to get marooned. In fact, to many it's a paradise - but under curfew it loses its shine of romance and idyllic charm."

A palm tree makes a perfect beamA palm tree makes a perfect beam
A palm tree makes a perfect beam

Al has spent 28 years coaching gymnastics to young people in Milton Keynes, He first visited Sri Lanka as a volunteer to help children living in camps following the horrific 2004 Tsunami.

He launched the Albondo Project to build these children an eco gymanstics centre. near the town of Galle. Because so many children drown in the nearby sea, it will also provide swimming coaching,

He and Sophie, who is studying for a Molecular Bioengineering degree at uni, had planned to stay for three weeks to visit school in the province. But now they could be trapped for at least double this time.

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To pass the time, Al is making Sophie practice her gymnastics.

Al: 'We are indeed marooned'Al: 'We are indeed marooned'
Al: 'We are indeed marooned'

"Part of me still thinks, only Al could get me marooned on an island and have me back training after nearly three years out," she said. " I mean, under curfew and seeing a leaning palm tree draped over the beach, he says: 'Look a balance beam!'"

Currently there are just 143 cases of Covid-19 in Sri Lanka, but all flights to and from the island have been cancelled.

"When we asked Emirates how they would us get us off the Island they told us keep an eye on their website to monitor when they may fly again. All other airlines have similarly stopping flights, said Al.

"We are, indeed, marooned."