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Rowing in Lithuania

Rima Karaliene is a woman inspired.  Her Father rowed for Lithuania during the Communist times and she has … read more

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

Rima Karaliene is a woman inspired.  Her Father rowed for Lithuania during the Communist times and she has written a book about his story called “Rowing though the Barbed Wire fence”.

The USSR was a composite country of Soviet Socialist Republics – Lithuania was not an independent nation.  The national rowing federation favoured athletes from the Russian Republic over others – notably, Rima’s Father who was from Lithuania.

Rima is a rower, the mother of rowers, the daughter of a rower and understands the sport intimately.  She describes her Father’s experiences as “a story demanding to be told”.

rowing in communist Lithuania
Rima Karolina’s book about her Father

The rowing story leads to 1964 Olympics in Tokyo

In the autumn of 1961, nine young men — rowers of Vilnius Žalgiris athletic association — became USSR rowing champions and were invited to the USSR national team. Though they had very important international competitions ahead of them, they were hounded at every turn by the echoes of the postwar years. Their parents’ or loved ones’ political opinions, their collaboration with partisans, and their relationships with the military of an independent Lithuania were all reasons for the KGB to restrict them from traveling abroad or to remove them from the team.

They were replaced by athletes from other republics. Cast aside, the young men formed new crews, prepared for competitions, and rowed in regattas held within the USSR. However, they still felt like second-class citizens, experiencing colder relations with their former crewmates as they achieved victories in international competitions. All the while, they were also burdened by the painful memories and losses from their childhoods. In 1963 and, thanks to the rowers’ perseverance, determination, and fortunate coincidences, the KGB removed their restrictions on international travel.

They placed at their first international competitions – the European Championship in Copenhagen. During their journeys abroad, they were closely followed by security officers and by Soviet propaganda. As hostages of the USSR athletic system, the Lithuanians were forced to participate in countless selection competitions, but they eventually won the right to participate in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Buy Rowing Through the Barbed Wire Fence on Rowperfect.

Reader Reviews

Sarunas A fascinating, emphatically written book based on true facts. The novel brings to life one of the most controversial times in European history and sheds a light on a tireless inner will of a Lithuanian rowers to resist against USSR. Real pictures collected by author and posted on the dedicated book’s page were very helpful to visualise the story.

Audie Alger “They wanted to be free, to go wild, to party and not to have fear for anything.”

I was hooked in less than one page. Rima Karaliene has gifted us all with a nearly forgotten ideal—one that is often only used pejoratively. By telling the story of her father’s rowing career in Soviet-era Lithuania, Karaliene has proven that nationalism can still be defined as: patriotism, dedication, and passion—a unique form, to be sure; one that can, both figuratively and literally, change the world for the better. I highly recommend this instant classic.

Jonas A book that takes you in and you wait for a moment to read. An emotional story of an unknown side of our sport.

Anon A Great book about a great sport and a great fight for freedom! The author lets you feel with every inch of your body what rowing in the top level competition feels, following the emotional fight for dignity, against the illogical system, against the past.

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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