Raimonds Dombrovskis, a professional athlete and an experienced adventurer, was born in Riga, Soviet Latvia at the time, in 1962. As a child, he tried several sports but really found himself in biathlon. While competing in the Soviet youth team, Raimonds achieved high results and was heading towards local biathlon stardom. However, in 1979, after complications with KGB, Raimonds and his family emigrated to the U.S. on the pretext of his stepfather being Jewish.
For almost two years after the family settled in New York, Raimonds thought he had lost biathlon. When a chance came to practice biathlon in Seattle, he moved to West Coast and resumed training. With hard work and dedication, Raimonds became a seven-time U.S. champion and secured a place in the Team USA for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. However, shortly before the Olympics, a sudden life-threatening health condition forced Raimonds out of the competition, and his dream came to an end.
This was a turning point in Raimonds’ career and personal life. Unwilling to give up on his dreams and lose his spot in the biathlon elite, Raimonds recovered and embarked on an epic roller ski journey across North America. He set a goal to roller ski from Inuvik in Canada to Baja in Mexico, covering 4200 miles (6759 km) in 90 days. Along with Raimonds came his dog Bucis and his VW van driver-turned-cinematographer, Martin Grants. During the trip, he explored the unique North American nature and himself as a human being. He tested the limits of his own endurance, passion, and dedication, and nurtured the dream of competing in the Winter Olympics under the flag of independent Latvia. In 1988, it was still a very bold idea. He used his roller ski trip as a way to protest against the Soviet Union regime and to explain everyone he met that somewhere on the map is a small nation that has its own language and that craves freedom. While roller skiing through Northwest Territories, Raimonds met Gwich’in families whose language had been lost to school integration policies, and he found striking similarities between their struggles to retain their ethnic identities. During this trip, Raimonds crossed paths with people who on an unconscious level helped shape his future.
The journey was documented on videotape that rendered 20 hours of unique, authentic footage of people and places 1988. These moving images tell the real story about a man who instead of giving up continued his journey in a way that had never been done before. When the highly acclaimed movie, Forrest Gump, was released in 1994, we wondered – could Raimonds have been the prototype of this touching story?
Raimonds did not choose the easiest or shortest way. The distance he covered on roller skis is awfully similar to the distance between Riga and the Himalayas, and at times his speed reached 120 km/h. Without a helmet or guards, dressed in wool sportswear of Team Latvia – that’s how Americans met “that crazy Latvian.” Nor did Raimonds planned the trip too cautiously. Sometimes the travelers lacked money and had to get to the nearest post office to take out the 100 dollars that a friend had caringly sent. The by-passers always asked the same question: “Why are you doing this?” to which Raimonds replied, “When I started, I had no reason of doing it, but now I have hundred to continue.”