Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri explains a hold to a pair of wrestlers at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington last year. Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi

 

FARMINGTON — It will be an eye-opening experience when aspiring wrestlers mingle and train with an array of worldwide talent at the International-Western Maine Spring Break Camp during school vacation week at Mt. Blue High School, beginning Wednesday, April 17.

Wrestling camp founder Gregg Loewen is excited to welcome back Canadian silver medalist and world champion Sissaouri “Gia” Guivi for the second year. But another big draw will be a visit from a Bulgarian wrestling team Thursday during the four-day camp.

“The Portland High School team (Casco Bay Elite) is hosting a squad of Bulgarian kids for the week,” Loewen said. “They are coming to wrestle with us on Thursday, part of a cultural exchange. A morning practice will be run by Bulgarians. The evening practice will be run by Team Gia.”

Organizing another wrestling camp can be taxing for Loewen, a wrestler himself, but the Saskatchewan native is doing it for a number of reasons, including, “Keeping the kids motivated, encouraging wrestling as a sport, supporting the community and role-modeling for my son.”

But Loewen has become an old farm hand when it comes to organizing camp.

“The first camp was the learning curve. Now it is all tweaking,” Loewen explained. “Gia said that the first camp was the best organized camp that he has participated in. We have cut the cost for campers from $325 to $250, and offering partial scholarships to the (local) Mt. Blue Middle School kids. 

“I do not want any kid, anywhere, to not be able to come due to cost. We started to advertise a bit early and harder this year to try to get the numbers up. Most of the kids from last year are returning. The more kids to wrestle the better the experience for all.”

Loewen and Guivi will have a lot of high-caliber assistance at the camp.

“Gia and I have recruited about six to eight elite wrestlers (state champions, New England regional placers, Canadian placers) to augment the coaching staff. This will increase the level of experience of all campers,” Loewen said.

Loewen is grateful Guivi decided to make the four-hour ride from his home in Montreal again.

“Gia is a 100 percent class act,” Loewen said. “World Champion, and multiple Olympian. He is an excellent role model for the kids. I could not ask for a better example for the kids, including my son. He is world renowned as being an expert technician, so why not learn from the best? We are very lucky to have him so close to Farmington, and lucky he is willing to do the drive from Montreal.”

With the Bulgarian team on board, young wrestlers will get to see these athletes take it to the mat.

“(Portland coach) Tony Napolitano has been running an annual Bulgarian exchange for several years,” Loewen said. “We have been working together for several years now. Tony and his crew are awesome and I want to help with their experience. 

“It is also great for the Maine kids to see how teams from other countries practice. Last year, Maine wrestlers went to Bulgaria. This year it is their turn to come to Maine. When I have seen the Bulgarian kids before, I have seen a very high level of skill and also an immense amount of work ethic. The local kids need to see this so they can create a mindset for themselves that fosters excellence. The Bulgarians are bringing multiple national champions with them. I strongly think that excellence in sports carries over to all other aspects of a person’s life.”

Napolitano, who runs the Casco Bay Elite wrestling club, said the Bulgarian team is comprised of 12- to 20-year-olds.

“We focus on international wrestling styles (freestyle and Greco Roman),” Napolitano said. “We have brought teams from Maine to Bulgaria (and Greece last year) twice, and this will be the second time a Bulgarian team is traveling here. Interesting note: Our exchange was the first time a club wrestling team from Bulgaria had ever traveled to the U.S.”

The camp will also feature a number of participatory events for wrestlers.

“The dual meet will be with the campers and the Bulgarians on Thursday evening, starting at 6 p.m.,” Loewen said. “It is open to the public. It is free and any donations received will go to offsetting the costs of the Bulgarians to visit Maine.

“We are re-offering a ‘Kids Klinic’ this year, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday evening. It is free to attend and is for grades from kindergarten through eight. Clinics like this are essential to spreading enthusiasm for the sport of wrestling. 

“The camp this year has expanded and all events are being held at the Mt. Blue High School. We are accepting corporate donations in exchange for advertising that will offset expenses and allow for scholarships. We will not turn any wrestler away that wants to attend. Gia will be signing photos for free to give to kids who attend the clinic.”

Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri and camp founder and coach Gregg Loewen pose with the Canadian flag signed by the 1996 Olympic Canadian Team. (Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi)


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