Meet Eimantas Grigalius. The towering Lithuanian native who calls Newbridge home. The man who only made a return to top sport – and he’s already heading for the summit.
In 2003, Grigalius won gold in the double skulls at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Greece, but took a long sabbatical from the sport since moving to Kildare some seven years ago.
However, his passion for rowing was reignited earlier this year and upon his return to the sport, Grigalius beat his personal best by five seconds at the national indoor championships and won a double senior title with Greystones native Ryan Corcoran – while only three seconds separated him from winning the national singles title at Farran Woods in Cork.
He also represented Ireland at the home countries regatta in the UK, where he finished third in the single scull.
“I only came back to rowing earlier this year, in February, for the indoor national championships. I decided I’d just give it a go, and to my surprise I beat my personal best by five seconds. I was surprised I was still able! I’m lucky that rowing is the kind of sport you can compete internationally and compete well at 30 and even up to 40,” Grigalius told the Leinster Leader this week.
“I think I was a bit tired of rowing, so that’s why I took such a long break and also I was very busy working, but I’m hooked again now.
“I recently came second in the national indoor championships, but I was the fastest rower at the championships,” he added.
Having bought a house in Newbridge in 2012, Eimantas and his wife Aiste are going nowhere.
They both work locally as fitness instructors – one in K-Leisure in Naas and the latter at K-Leisure in Athy – and are right at home in Kildare.
“We moved here in 2006 ,and Newbridge was my first port of call, and I’ve been here ever since. One of my friends was living here and I had visited him before I liked Newbridge.
“My mum and sister live in London and I went there and tried it out, but London wasn’t for me. It’s too big. I much prefer Ireland.
“We bought a house in Newbridge last year, so it’s definitely home now. We have two Labradors that are full of energy, so they keep us busy!” said the amiable 28-year-old.
Grigalius and his wife met in Lithuania and studied physical education at university, as well as both competing internationally.
Time now, however, is of the essence as Grigalius tries to juggle competing nationally, training and working full time.
His job, he says, gives him an advantage over other part- time athletes, and despite invites to the national high performance team, he is going to bide his time before making the leap.
“It’s tough fitting everything in, but I’m lucky that I work in fitness and can work on my fitness levels in work.
“Some of the high performance guys have asked me how many rowing workouts I do a week and I tell them three or four, and they are shocked because they do seven or eight a week.
“What they don’t realise is that I’m doing an additional ten classes a week. The classes give me very, very good fitness levels and I count that as an advantage.
“Some days people might not be motivated to work out – but for me it’s work, so I have no choice,” said Grigalius, who is a member of the Three Castles Rowing Club in Blessington.
Of course, sport at the top level doesn’t come cheap. Currently Grigalius is using a boat that’s almost as old as he is, which put him at a dissadvantage from the outset.
However, he recently received some good news on the sponsorship front, and is currently in search of a new boat.
“Last year I was rowing with a boat that was made in 1987 against a guy racing with a new boat. I mentioned to management in work that I was going to look for sponsorship and asked them how to go about it.
“They actually came back to me and said that they would sponsor me. It’s so amazing to be appreciated by your employer – and that news was like the best early Christmas present ever.
“It’s so difficult to row without a boat of your own. It’s like trying to cycle without a bike!
“If I get the new boat, I’ll be able to push myself more. The big goal for me would be to beat the Irish champion and take it from there. This year, he only beat me by three seconds. I believe if I have my own boat, I will have a good chance of doing it,” he remarked.
When Grigalius and Corcoran won the senior mens double sculls earlier this year, they had only been together three months, making their victory all the more remarkable. He even managed to surprise himself and following on from his fine form, there have been calls for Grigalius to apply for an Irish passport, allowing him to compete for his adopted country at more advanced levels.
“This year at the national championships, I rowed in the doubles and singles. In the seniors, we surprised everyone when we won the doubles and I won the singles. I am thinking very seriously about applying for an Irish passport to allow me to compete internationally.
“I have been asked to start training with the high performance team. I’ve decided to see how the year goes for me and see will I be able to compete with professional athletes,” he admitted.
One has no doubt that Eimantas Grigalius will be able to compete.
To win a world junior title, you have to have serious talent and talent isn’t something that just disappears.
The Lithuanian isn’t afraid of hard work either – and coupled with that talent, he and his new boat will no doubt be a force in Irish rowing over the coming years.