The Vaga brothers
For this interview we have reunited two sports- and outdoors-loving brothers – Merko and Kristo Enn Vaga. Merko is currently located in Sweden and Kristo has just returned to Estonia from France. Wuruhi in turn is excited to share the journey of two brothers whose path in life has been that versatile, yet have a special pride for their small home country.
The brothers might work in totally different fields and live far away from each other, but they both share a passion for sports and for their small Estonia. We in Wuruhi are inspired by the multiple ways of how people have chosen to live their lives – and brothers Kristo and Merko surely have their own unique way.
Tell us about yourselves
Kristo Enn Vaga: I was born and raised in Tallinn, Estonia and trained as a cyclist since I was seven years old. I can say that I am the heart of the party, social, and never afraid of anything, especially of new challenges. At the moment I am 20 years old and study Public Administration and Governance in Tallinn University of Technology. I also serve as the Secretary-General of the youth wing of the Reform party (Reformierakond), so my work and university go very hand in hand.
At the start of this year I wouldn’t have imagined an answer like that because at that point, I was still chasing my dream to become a professional cyclist in France. But I can’t say that sports is now history for me as I try to keep myself moving every possible second. Of course now it is a bit harder because of multiple other chores.
Merko Vaga: Starting with the hard questions, I see! I’m currently a researcher in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) – so, at the beginning of my academic career. At the moment I am 32 years old. I did my undergraduate studies in Estonia and partly in Turkey, after which I worked for a year as a substitute farmer in Estonia and then moved to Umeå to pursue my doctorate studies.
I have always liked spending time in the nature, so aside from university life, I spend a lot of time doing sports and hiking when and wherever possible. My main passion is cycling, but in the recent years I have combined it with triathlon trainings and ultra-sports which has allowed me to extend my training season in the cold Northern climate. If there is any additional free time left – not very often –, then I like playing my guitar or building useless gadgets (okay, some have been useful, too).
Kristo, you went from cycling to politics. What made you change your path?
Kristo: As a cyclist you have a lot of time to think – going uphill in trainings or resting in bed after a hard training session. I thought about the meaning of being a professional athlete, the career I have wanted to have since I was just a little boy. For me, it ultimately boiled down to being an entertainer on a “sports arena”. I’d use quotation marks because in cycling, the arena is open roads and nature and that’s why I love it so much.
But coming back to the question, I don’t merely want to be an entertainer – I want something more from life and I want to give something bigger back to the community. That’s the reason I wanted to go to politics, to make somebody’s life and whole communities better. I was a candidate in the last local municipal elections in Tallinn and definitely want to be a candidate, hopefully a member, in future parliamentary and European Parliament elections. I aim to be a representative for every innovative and active person in Estonia.
Merko, you just finished a PhD in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå. What’s next?
Merko: Sweden or Estonia? Neither. The world! Finishing the doctoral studies was just the first major step in my academic career. Next step, however, has already been taken. I was lucky enough to get an amazingly exciting post-doctoral research project in SLU for two years which I could not have said “no” to. But I did move closer to Estonia as for now, the studies continue in Uppsala. It’s very hard to predict where my path will lead me after these 2 years. I do know though that I want to continue as a researcher and I will come back to Estonia when I feel that I’m good enough to significantly contribute to research and higher education in Estonian universities.
I have still not had the chance to experience the academic cultures behind the big oceans, so my dream would be to work a year or two in Canada, Australia or maybe US. It’s hard to choose because the quality of research is important for me – but good conditions to continue doing sports are almost as equivalent.
Besides the work at the university, I like spending my free time training for ultra-sports and I like pushing the limits. In the next few years I would like to participate and complete double and triple-triathlons and maybe even the UTMB. Hopefully Kristo will have time to combine his political career with sports also and we can tackle some of these athletic challenges together. This year, Kristo and I finally had some time, after many years, to cycle together in the Italian Alps which was one of the most enjoyable cycling trips I’ve ever had. Touching the sky together on top of the Stelvios Pass was just amazing.
Tell us more about your lifestyle around sports
Kristo: As an aspiring professional athlete, sports maybe wasn’t that natural as I only had training, sleep and food in my daily schedule. Now, as an amateur and simply a sports lover, I know that doing sports and exercising gives my whole day a better feeling and supports other activities. Doing sports keeps you awake and young.
Of course the self-confidence, courage, discipline, goal-oriented thinking, team work, etc. that I got from cycling are important. I can’t imagine any other activity that has helped me grow into the kind of person I am today.
Kristo – “Keep moving forward – no matter what you do, you have to look forward. The thing that I fear the most is stagnation, feeling of convenience and laziness. Maybe objectives change in different points in life but the thrive to succeed and to challenge yourself stays.“
Merko: Unlike Kristo, I got into cycling very late in my life. I think I was 18 when I participated in my first cycling competition; however, after that sports have become a natural part of my everyday life. When I started my doctoral studies, I decided to give up sports and focus only on work. After a while I felt like something important was missing in my life, so after just 4 months I bought a new bike, started regularly going to the gym and run in the cold Nordic winter. After starting to exercise again everything felt better. I was more productive at work, felt happier and made new friends.
Merko – “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” – Suzy Kassem. I can’t imagine any bigger failure in life than giving up without trying, which is ironic since taking the first step into unknown is also the scariest thing ever.”
It’s perhaps impossible to simultaneously do professional sports and work full-time, but regular exercising only boosts work performance and improves personal well-being. As a scientist, creativity is an important part of the job and sports really help with the thinking process. Long triathlon trainings in the fresh air outside give a lot of time to think and that’s where I often get my best ideas. Wouldn’t change it for anything.
Do you consider yourselves as Estonian patriots?
Kristo: Definitely. The main reason I came back from France was that I didn’t want to live anywhere else than Estonia. The people, the Estonian culture of singing and dancing, the landscape, chill weather that keeps you sharp, and of course, Estonian innovative thinking – I wouldn’t change it for any other place on Earth. Here I encourage everybody to go abroad just to come back and see that we live in the best country in the world.
Merko: “Patriot” is a risky word these days and often misinterpreted. But yes, I believe I have some patriot’s blood in me. At home we were raised as any real Estonians, but it was actually my gym teacher in high school who taught me to understand Estonian history and showed why we should be proud to be Estonians. That’s also the time when I got involved in the club Kulter-Eesti and the General Johan Laidoner Society, both of which are dedicated to preserving Estonian history and organizing sporting and national events.
Today, Estonia is one of most successful little countries in the world, but our young people don’t remember the important events and struggles that have shaped Estonians into such a resilient nation. Even though I have been away from Estonia for several years, I don’t feel any less of an Estonian and hopefully will have the chance to bring my acquired knowledge back to my home country one day.
During the last year in high school, I and a few good classmates of mine wrote a book about the Estonian Independence War, which was published in 2005. Working together with some of the best historians in Estonia was a life-changing experience for young people like us.
How much do you know about Estonian or Baltic design?
Kristo: Honestly, not much. I know that Estonian models are world-famous and that we have a very cool wooden watch company, Wooch, that our former prime minister wore. But in the general, I haven’t seen a lot of Estonian nor Baltic design, which is hopefully changing largely thanks to Wuruhi.
Merko: Coming from a not-so-rich family, designer clothes, designer furniture or any other designer items have usually been out of reach for me. However, in recent years I have seen so many small Estonian businesses starting to produce various clothes and everyday items inspired by materials and designs of Estonian national clothes and patterns. Many of my cycling and triathlon clothes have these patterns and I love them. At the same time, Estonian designers are not just copying others but are daring enough to experiment with new ideas that are well-received in the European and world market. I’m am happy to see that.
Which accessory was your favourite at today’s photoshoot?
Kristo: Hard question! I would have liked to wear every accessory, grab all the clothes and run away with them, because everything was so cool. My favourite one was probably the portfolio (bag) with carbon design – as I use a portfolio in my everyday life, it really moved me.
Merko: The photoshoot really took me out of my comfort zone but I liked everything in it. It’s not so easy to choose. The suit with leather bowtie felt great and I’m already thinking how to improve my wardrobe in a similar way. However, the combination of the wooden eyeglass frames with the long coat was exactly daring enough to make me love it. It just felt like the perfect combination of clothes in the gloomy Nordic autumn weather.
Photography: Arttu Karvonen
Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel
Accessories from Wuruhi.com: Demoog Design House Nu Windsor Ruby Red Tie Knot Accessory and Batwing Midnight Black Leather Bow Tie; Marimo Fashion Herrania Silk Tie; Estie Slim Briefcase; Frames Framed by Karl
Clothing from Denim Dream: Denim Dream, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein Jeans, Viru keskus Tallinn
Assistant: Anna Vandel