When I started Kalnu Ereliai, I’d said I could have at least one boy ready for Vancouver. A lack of funding and time on skis made that goal unrealistic. But Sochi was four years away, and Kalnų Ereliai had depth.
I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the word "grybaujame" until some friends put me in a pair of rubber boots, handed me a basket and a knife, and drove to a “secret spot” some 20km outside of Vilnius on a cold, damp morning.
After more than five years of living, working, and enjoying life in Vilnius, it is time for me to move on. I intend to return next winter to Lithuania, but for the moment, it’s time for this little lietuvaitė to pack her bags and learn to speak Kiwi.
When you cross the bridge to Užupis, you are subject to the laws of its constitution. Citizens retain the “right not to be loved, but not necessarily,” while travelers have the right to explore at their own pace; linger in courtyards and stroll through the forest which sits high above Vilnius’ Sereikiškių Park.
An essay in honor of March 11, 1990, Lithuanian independence day I remember my father telling me that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was once the greatest country in Europe, extending from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. It was
It would be another perfect Colorado day for the final ladies’ event at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships in Beaver Creek. Reigning World and Olympic Champion Mikaela Schiffrin of the U.S. Ski Team was wearing bib number 2, while Lithuania’s Ieva Januškevičiūtė would start with bib number 88.
The sun hadn’t yet risen when the 120 women in the race arrived at the start for inspection. The snow of the 61-gate course was fully-injected, making for a firm but grippy surface. One by one, the women pushed out of the start house and made their way down the course, looking for rhythm changes and other particularly difficult sections.
Januškevičiūtė inspected the course together with her coaches from Kronplatz Racing Team in Italy Nicola Paulon and Stefano Lombardi, as well as her Kronplatz teammates Nino Tsiklauri from Georgia and Maya Harrisson from Brazil.
After inspection, the girls went for a few runs on the warm-up course where Januškevičiūtė got a bit of a surprise: “I was in the training course when I lost my balance and I jumped a little bit and my ski went on my pole. They’re carbon and they’re so slim, so my ski broke the pole,” she said.
The temperature was crisp this morning for the first run inspection of the men’s giant slalom at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, but clear skies and quickly climbing temperatures promised to make for a fantastic day of ski racing.
Eighteen-year-old Lithuanian skier Rokas Zaveckas of Vilnius would wear bib number 88 after successfully completing the qualification race yesterday in Vail. The sun hadn’t come up over the mountains when he boarded the lift to the top of the course.
A total of 160 men from 68 countries were entered in this men’s giant slalom race. The top fifty racers on the entry list were automatically qualified, while 110 others had to qualify in a race held on Thursday in Vail. The GS final start list contained 100 skiers.
There are 69 countries represented here in Vail-Beaver Creek, Colorado, for the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships. Some of them are well known in the ski racing world and attend these and other big ski racing events with an entourage of coaches, doctors, trainers, ski technicians, and even personal assistants. But the majority of the field is made up of up and coming racers doing it mostly on their own. Many of them are from small nations like Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, Israel, Brazil (at least in the ski racing world), and even Haiti and Mexico, countries that don’t even have snow. For those skiers, both the perspective and their expectations are somewhat different from those of Lindsey Vonn, Marcel Hirscher, Tina Maze, Felix Neureuter, and the other big names in the event.
I have been reunited this week with my Lithuanian ski racers from the Kalnų Ereliai Ski Team in Vilnius, Ieva Januškevičiūtė and Rokas Zaveckas. I live in California now, but Colorado was my stomping ground for most of my 20’s. There was no way I was going to miss “my kids” racing in “my mountains.”
Rokas’s introduction to American hospitality came on the gondola at Vail in the form of a serenade from local guitarist. “We were in the line, and I spotted that in this gondola is a man with a guitar, so I said to Rokas, ‘Come on, let’s get in this one,’” said Giedrius Zaveckas, Rokas’s father and coach who initially shared the video on Facebook. In the video, the guitarist gives a private concert, covering the Fleetwood Mac song, “Landslide,” with the backdrop of a Colorado bluebird day.
Even before I left for Sochi, Lietuvos Rytas television journalist Rita Stankevičiūtė contacted me to ask if I’d mind giving an interview. Of course I never mind the chance to promote my skiers, and I quickly agreed. And then she asked me, “Do you speak Lithuanian?” Sure I said, I just can’t write very well.
In Sochi, we measured everything in hot dogs. The concessions inside the Olympic venues were limited, to say the least, and the hot dogs were the most appealing. A “classic” hot dog with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise was 150 rubles. The specialty hot dogs, which included the “Brooklyn,” covered in melted cheese product and bits of bacon, and the “Manhattan” with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, as well as fried onion bits and pickles, cost 200 rubles. Because it’s extremely difficult to comprehend that an American hot dog covered with baked beans (the “Boston”) could cost over $6 in Russia, we simply ignored the conversion rate and measured the world in specialty hot dogs.
My parents taught me how to ski. We spent many winter weekends on the slopes of Northern Michigan, went to Colorado every spring, and I loved to watch ski racing in the Olympics.
I remember Tommy Moe’s gold medal in the men’s downhill in Lillehammer (I was teaching a young cousin how to ski that day), but I don’t remember the first Olympics I watched—like skiing, it is something I’ve just always done.
Alpine skier and soon-to-be-Olympian Ieva Januškevičiutė now has one more thing in common with ski stars Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, and Mikaela Shiffrin: her own page in a magazine. She is Lithuanian Cosmopolitan’s “Fun, Fearless, Female,” for February. “It’s just so surprising, I still can’t believe it—Olympics, magazine, and I even have my own [ski serviceman] now!” Januškevičiutė exclaimed. The international team she trains with in Italy now employs a technician for the racers, though he won’t be able to accompany her to Sochi. Like many other young racers, she’ll have to prepare her own skis at the Olympic games.
Ruta Sepetys’s first novel Between Shades of Gray, about a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who is deported to Siberia with her mother and little brother in 1941, has been optioned for a film by Sorrento Productions and Tauras Films. The book was adapted for the screen by Ben York Jones; Marius Markevicius, producer of The Other Dream Team, will direct.