Interview: My fathers life behind the barbed wire fence – Rima Karaliene

rowing in communist Lithuania

I had the chance to talk to Rima about book. A book we have posted before and which is in our store now. Rima is a fascinating lady: She manages a Rowing Hotel, is involved in National Rowing organisations and writes books. Even books for children. Read and learn about the rowing society during the cold war. And understand her deep and personal emotions while writing her book rowing behind the barbed wired fence

Rowperfect: There are not so many rowers who are in Literature. When did you start your writing career?

I myself am trying to answer the question of whether it is a career, or just an attempt to preserve the history, which is important to me. My father’s story long oppressed me, but only after his death, I started to explore it. Only two years after his loss I dared to read his written memories. And I realized that I knew so little and that I was so late. I missed every opportunity to ask him and talk.

So I had to investigate the course of events, circumstances, general atmosphere, even feelings. When I started writing it, I did not say anything to anyone. I thought – I will try, and if I fail, I’ll put the manuscript in the drawer and forget it.

It was very interesting to collect facts, talk with the rowers of that generation, analyze old photographs and videos, newspapers and magazines, explore places. Since I run a Rowing Museum in Trakai, it was not hard for me to convince people to talk. I pretended that I just collect facts.

When I wrote 100 pages, I had to admit it to my husband, because he began to suspect that something was wrong with me. Apparently, I did not succeed in concealing the mood changes that occurred going deep into very painful things. So he was the first to read my manuscript. He encouraged me to continue and publish the book. His support was tremendous.

RP: we have read your book with great interest. How did you think about this story? Did your father inspire you?

Rima Karaliene Author, rowing book, rowing author,
Rima Karaliene Author

When after my long persuasion to write the memories my father handed me his manuscript, I promised that there would be a book. But I had no idea what the book should be. Besides, I was afraid to read the manuscript.

In fact, I was inspired by James Daniel Brown and his book “Boys In The Boat”, that I bought in Henley in 2014, one year after my father’s death. I realized that friends of my father still can help me to preserve our rowing history. And I have to hurry up before it is too late.

Although our history is very different, but it is little-known in the world. We have lived in an evil country for 50 years and have been a forgotten nation, without the rights and with a rewritten history. People of our nation have suffered discrimination and humiliation in all areas, including sports. To make that terrible history no longer happen, we need to tell it to as many people as possible.

RP: did you get any feedback from your fathers crew after releasing the book?

My Dad’s friends were first to learn that a book was written (after my husband). I had to admit to them because I needed their approval. This book is not documentary. Although the facts are true and people are real, but there is a lot of my creative work. For example, the dialogs that I had to imagine. Also their characters, mutual communication. I did not want to hurt anybody or wrongly assess various situations. So I gave a manuscript to them to evaluate and correct inaccuracies. I was surprised that I did not receive any remarks. They all wondered that I had very accurately restored their personalities. This book touched them emotionally, as probably everyone is touched by nostalgia of young years. All of them expressed great appreciation for my desire to commemorate rowing history.

RP: Was there a message you want to address to us rowers?

Many athletes who have already read this book have probably recognized themselves – their feelings, fears, physical suffering, dreams, joy of victories, and doubts. Someone shook from a pre-start thrill…

No matter in which epoch or country, we rowers all feel the same. We all went through the same training routine, the same emotions. Most of us have asked ourselves before the race “What I am doing here? What for?” And right after the finish all of us set new rowing dreams… We have so much in common. The beauty of rowing sport has no borders, no languages, no “fences”. We fall in love with rowing once and for all.

RP: Do you recall Rowing in the Cold war?

Yes, of course. I was born in soviet times. I started my rowing career in 1978. International rowing was an unreachable dream. For athletes from the Baltics republics (so called in the ussr) it was very difficult to make the national soviet team. Even if Lithuanians won the national championships they were eliminated one by one from the crew by endless trials. Some of them were replaced due to restrictions to leave the country.

Soviet rowers were full time athletes. The sports system, although based partly on military principles, was well developed. Sports bases, inventory, training, camps for athletes were free. Athletes were provided with food and clothing. However, the requirements were also very high, especially on the international level. In order to win, athletes were forced to use drugs. Those who refused simply were not able to compete for the place in the boat.

Sport in the soviet union was a part of politics. For a country that did not have anything to be proud of, it was necessary, at least in sports to win against foreign countries, especially the USA and West Germany. Heads of the team desperately wanted to win the team standings. The main thing was to overtake the biggest political enemies in the medal table. After losing the competition rowers, coaches and team managers had to report to the heads of the communist party…

Rima’s Painting Book for littler Rowers

Guess what was the present for Lithuanian rowing team in 1983, when we won the Spartakiad of Nations in Moscow (held in ussr every 4 years, like local Olympic games)? We were taken to the Mausoleum without a queue to look at the corpse of Lenin!

RP: do you see any difference in trainings today and in the sixties and 70ties?

Rowing sport doesn’t change much during almost 200 years. Rowing requires the same characteristics of an athlete as it was 100 years ago.

Workout load in 60’-70’ I think was similar, but it was less effective. Coaches were mostly self-taught, information on coaching was limited. Training equipment was poor. In Soviet times, the entire training process was focused on selections. Everyone was preparing only for trials. To make the national team was the key.

Rowers from my book told me about unbearable workloads, countless trials and frequent overtraining cases. When they went to international competitions, they were completely exhausted. I mentioned a few such cases in my book. For example, the final Olympic selection of the coxless pair took place in Tokyo just few days before the Olympic race. And the famous eight, for which the gold medal was planned, had to row 2000 metres at maximum a couple of days before the heat. Their Olympic dreams have been ruined by ignorance of the national team coaches.

RP: Which advice would you give young rowers today preparing for an international event?:

My advice is short – dream big and your dream will show you your path…

RP: What is your relation to Rowing /FISA today?

It may sound banal, but rowing is my way of life. Rowing is with me every day. Or I’m with it.

Rowing is in my blood. 30 members of our family are successful rowers. First generation – my parents, uncle, aunts, second – me and my cousins, our husbands and wives, and third – my children, nephews, nieces, their husbands and wives. There are two Olympic rowers among us.

11 years ago my family founded a rowing club in Trakai, on the lake shore. At club we give rowing lessons to adults, organize rowing events. 9 years ago we founded a Rowing Museum. It contains exhibits from around the world. I also run a small family hotel ‒ Rowing Hotel. All three of my businesses are in the same location. The windows overlook the lake, medieval castle and the international rowing course. When I see flat water – I take my single and go rowing. Sometimes I race in the masters competitions. In winter time, when the lake is frozen, I row on ergometre, investigate the history of rowing and sometimes I write …

I was a vice-president of the Lithuanian Rowing Federation for 12 years. During those years I have met a lot of people who are in love with rowing and live it.

As my all activities are related to rowing, I can say that now I devote most of my time to my hobby. And, of course, my family.

Rimas Book is on Christmas Sales: Nov. 22- Dec. 1st.2018.

Are you interested to join us at a rowing camp with Rima?  We offer a 5 day Rowing Camp in May 2019 in Rimas Hotel. Ask for more information or check with us on facebook

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