row2k Features
row2k Interview: #rowersagainstracism Originator Stephan Riemekasten
July 13, 2020
Ed Hewitt,

#rowersagainstracism logo

Many rowing people have seen the #rowersagainstracism video featuring multiple elite international rowers on social media, accompanied by a challenge tied to a fundraising campaign. The Challenge involves rowing 8:46 on the erg or in a boat, and donating to Color of Change through a GoFundMe effort through World Rowing; after a slow start to the campaign, at this writing many teams are planning to participate.

Join in now! - and read on below for how the effort got started.

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One of my favorite German songs from my youth has a line that has stuck with me ever since I heard it back when I was 13: “it’s not your fault, that the world is as it is. But it would be your fault, if it stays that way”. A couple of weeks ago I reached out to rowers around the globe, @worldrowingofficial and @sxulls2020 with an idea. The response blew me away. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want credit for this, I was just the middle man between great activists and a community willing and eager to help. @mauriciesummers of world rowing did a lot of the work, as did @sxulls2020 in putting the videos off all the athletes together! Please join me and countless others in the #rowersagainstracism challenge! Soon, I will post a video of me rowing 8:46 sec in memory of George Floyd, thinking of his family, his hopes and dreams. Then, I will donate 8,46$ to “color of change” through the gofundme that @worldrowingofficial has set up (link in bio) It’s only a start and lots more work needs to be done than donating 8 dollars (or what u can!) but a journey of 1000miles starts with the first step. This is mine, and hopefully yours too. #rowersagainstracism #changetheworld #foreveryone #blacklivesmatter #blacktranslivesmatter

A post shared by Stephan Riemekasten (@stephanriemekasten) on

The effort was organized by Stephan Riemekasten, a rower with the German national sculling team who graduated from Yale in 2017. He is sponsored by the German military, serving by training for the Olympics.

Riemekasten also has a very full non-rowing life, as he is enrolled fulltime in medical school in Hamburg and has a wife (who originally came up with the idea) and two ("hyperactive like me," he says) children, but found the time to share some information with row2k on how the effort came together.

[Editor's note: pre-publication, Stephan noted, and row2k discussed internally, that this article "sounds very centered around me," as Stephan stated - but in the end we felt that talking to Stephan was both a good way to get the word out about the effort, and show how someone with an idea can make it happen with a bit of enthusiasm and a lot of help. Join in! I am doing my piece today.]

row2k: What made you decide to put this effort together?

Stephan Riemekasten: After George Floyd's horrible death, I knew I needed to do something. It was such a painful reminder of the equally brutal and unnecessary murder of Eric Garner in 2014, when I was in the United States and joined protests there right after as well. It felt like nothing had changed in six years, so I was thinking a lot about ways to do something that would have a greater impact. I didn't feel like I had much to lose when I just send out a couple of messages on social media, telling people about my idea and if they would be willing to do it. It all went really quickly from there.

What inspired you to use the approach you did?

Riemekasten: It was actually my wife's idea to start a challenge, and we then brainstormed together what we could do and I quickly realized that I had the connections to a bunch of famous rowers and to a team of movie makers that love the sport of rowing, with everyone being also eager to help for a good cause. Since social media was one of the best ways to spread a message globally, especially during Corona, it was a rather simple and easy choice.

row2k: What do folks need to know to participate?

Riemekasten: The Challenge is simple; row/erg 8:46 in memory of George Floyd and donate $8.46 to Color of Change through the World Rowing Gofundme. Take a picture of you doing so and share it on social media, and if you put your name down with your donation on the Gofundme, you even have the chance for an autograph or/and gear from one of the athletes in the video! Then nominate three others to do the same.

This is designed to be a snowball system, so that more and more people quickly join the challenge and the hope was that many rowers would join and spare just a little, under 10$, but that by having hopefully thousands do that raise a big amount of money that could actually help.

row2k: How did you reach out to the numerous top athletes that appear in the video?

Riemekasten: Well, I know a lot of them personally, having raced most of the men in the video so having met them at regattas, or through my takeover of the Worldrowing Instagram at the 2019 World Championships, when I met Emma Twigg for example.

I wanted a cast that reflected the global rowing community and all disciplines you can find, and obviously looked for athletes that were sympathetic or passionate for the cause based on their social media activity. Everyone reacted very positively and almost no-one rejected the offer; some just didn't respond in time (which is why no-one from Australia is in the video). I also did want many people in the video to be white, as the elite rowing community is, and to make sure that the point comes across that it is an effort made by white people to fight inequality.

row2k: Where there any bloopers/outtakes from the clips?

Riemekasten: I wouldn't know. All the athletes send me the video they deemed good enough for the final version, so I only saw the good stuff, sorry.

row2k: Did you learn anything new about the issue of racism in our sport while working on this?

Stephan Riemekasten after the 2017 IRA
Stephan Riemekasten after the 2017 IRA

Riemekasten: Yes, but mainly after I posted and saw the reactions online or was messaged by rowers on Instagram. I was just surprised how much work it was to put the video together and manage everyone, as well as getting the infrastructure going even though I had a lot of help from a very passionate employee of Worldrowing, Maurici e Summers.

row2k: How has the response been so far?

Riemekasten: Pretty great! There obviously was some backlash, which was to be expected in our highly political times, but overall I would say people like the video a lot and appreciated the challenge.

Unfortunately, while a lot of people reacted very positive, I don't think the donations have really been going well yet, even though many clubs, boat houses and rowing federations have shared the video or proclaimed that they would take part. We will push for the Challenge again in mid-July and before the campaign ends in three weeks, so I am still hopeful we can motivate some more people to take part.

It is not about any one person giving a lot, it's about all of us giving a little and starting the work towards a better society for all - and I am hopeful that the rowing community will take this opportunity to make an impact. I for one am already proud how positive some of the biggest names in the sport have reacted, and it makes me hopeful that we will create a better world as we move forwards.

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