Meeting A Champion


For the Toronto Lithuanian community, this year‘s February 16th celebration was different from any other. The Restoration of Lithuania‘s Statehood was commemorated this past weekend. Two events were of special interest. One – a demonstration at Toronto City Hall in support of Ukraine on Saturday, February 23rd, and on Sunday – an exciting encounter with Aurimas Valujavičius – famous for his most recent adventure – crossing the Atlantic in a rowboat.

He was there, in person at the TIFF Lightbox on King Street – and on screen, in a 1 hour-38 minute film called Oars over the Atlantic, showing how he did it. During the Q & A after the film, Aurimas said the most difficult part of the adventure was the intense preparation and the first few weeks out on the ocean. The 29-year-old trained strenuously and has the muscular profile of a champion. That and the minutia of obtaining, learning and testing all the gadgetry on the high-tech rowboat took a great deal of time. He named his boat “Lituanica“ after the airplane flown across the Atlantic 90 years ago, by Lithuanian pilots Darius and Girėnas to whom he dedicated this trip.

His starting date was delayed by about a month due to inclement weather, which was, he said, the most frustrating time. His journey from Spain to Florida took 120 days. Aurimas is the third person in the world to have achieved this feat, rowing from continent to continent, not setting out from the Canary Islands and ending at the outer islands of the Carribean, as others have done. Filming every day, at the end of his journey Aurimas had over 90 hours of raw footage. In the film, it is fascinating to see not only the vastness of his surroundings and the power of the sea, but the actual details of his daily existence. Viewers could share his joy as he ate freshly caught mahi-mahi raw (with soya sauce) after thousands of calories of packaged food. His greatest shock came when a rogue wave partially capsized the boat, but he was able to recover. He took everything calmly, in stride, and maintained an incredibly positive attitude throughout. The fact that he was rowing at the average rate of 10,000 strokes each day did not seem to be a hardship. Blisters healed and calluses were his friends. He felt “at home” on the ocean, and learned to read the waves in order to adjust his rowing technique.

This was Aurimas’ 10th journey. In 2015, the European karate champion cycled from Lithuania to Norway, a 2500-km trip. In the summer of 2017, two bicycle trips, one in Namibia, one in Slovakia totalled 3100 km. The following year he climbed a volcanic mountain in Bali, and kayaked the length of the Nemunas River (937 km). In 2019, he bicycled 3700 km in 200 days through Europe, and in 2020 he set the Lithuanian record for kayaking when he covered 3,068 km in 120 days, and in May 2022 he traversed the jungles of Indonesia by bicycle, clocking 10,037 km in 129 days.

Aurimas explained that he recovered quite quickly after his Atlantic crossing, not even feeling the swaying of waves when he slept in a hotel bed for the first time in 4 months. The next day it was “back to business” for him, first – producing the film, launching it, and planning his next journey. Where will he go? “Follow me to find out!” said Aurimas. Online we discover that in March he will start a five-month, 8000 km bicycle journey through New Zealand. Truly a champion traveller.