Tony Napolitano introduces the Bulgarian wrestling team to the International Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Thursday. Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi

Bulgarian coach Pavel talks with Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri during the International Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at Mt. Blue High School on Thursday. (Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi)

Wrestlers go through a drill at International Wrestling Camp at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Thursday. (Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi)

Wrestlers go through a drill at International Wrestling Camp at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Thursday. (Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi)

FARMINGTON — Just before the Bulgarian wrestling team arrived, International Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp founder Gregg Loewen said his Maine contingent was about to get a wake-up call from dedicated athletes who live and breathe the sport.

The Bulgarian team formally introduced themselves and then conducted a rigorous 50-minute conditioning routine that left Maine wrestlers astonished, strained and drained at the Mt. Blue High School gymnasium on Thursday.

For nearly an hour, both teams spent running, jumping, twisting and crawling through each arduous drill.

“Maybe something new for them,” said Maria Delev, who was translating for Bulgarian wrestler Victor Tisov. “For us, it is just a lifestyle, just the way we practice two times a day.”

Delev’s husband Peter, a Bulgarian wrestling Roman Greco champ, was also volunteering at the Farmington wrestling camp.

It was the type of workout that just might leave an Olympian worn-out — and proves just how serious Bulgaria takes the sport of wrestling.


“These kids are going to have an eye-opener,” Loewen said. “I am really glad they are here to actually see how a group of well-disciplined athletes works and trains. 

“Once practice starts and they hit the mat, nobody is talking during drills. No goofing around. There is no one taking ice breaks, water breaks,” Loewen said. “They are disciplined and they do 90-minute sessions and probably stretch to 120 because they don’t stop. They are going to be all out for those two hours.”

Loewen explained the contrasting European and American practice routines.

“Their practice style is a European style and in U.S. style, the kids get on the mat and start to stretch and then they slowly work into their practice,” Loewen said. “Europeans just go boom and go…and in two-hour practice, a one-hour of practice is just gymnastic calisthenics. You’re going to see cartwheels, back flips, forward flips and they just boom, boom, boom.”

Mt. Blue wrestling coach Hayden Nile has seen the Bulgarians practice before and he knows this is a well-disciplined team.

“It is pretty intense,” he said. “Some of the stuff I am watching, I said, ‘I am going to use that next year.’


“These guys are pretty good. Some of the training is pretty unreal,” he added. “These guys are working out almost an hour now and they are not even done. This is crazy.”

This is the second year Loewen is conducting the clinic, which also featured a return engagement from Canadian Olympic silver medalist Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri. 

“We have eight kids more than last year,” Loewen said. “We are up to 28 this year as a head count.”

Loewen said Gia emigrated to Canada at 20 years old and he grew up with the European style of practicing. When Gia trains with elite athletes, he also uses to European style, Loewen added.

“I am motivated in terms of …like they need wrestling more,” Sissaouri said about his return. “I am a freestyle wrestler and I know freestyle is going out here…I am trying to have an influence in the area and we see like it growing now.

“We grow this group so we can have back and fourth, maybe bring more Canadians,” Sissaouri said. “So what is going to help is grow this group and spread the word from my side and then people make a sacrifice.”


Sissaouri added that the Bulgarians’ style and his style match.

“I am always interested in seeing different styles. I love the Bulgarians because they like throws. They are really good in upper body and my main style is upper body, too.  So I always try to see the difference, like they approach things, you know,” he said. “I try to learn from them. Today, I pick up a few things. I want to try those, too and add them to my portfolio.” 

Loewen and Tony Napolitano, who coaches at Casco Bay Elite Wrestling and Portland High School and helped organize the Maine Bulgarian Wrestling Exchange, arranged to have the Bulgarians visit the Farmington clinic.

“I know Tony and he has been doing it four years,” Loewen said. “What he does is bring a group of Bulgarians one year and then he brings back another the next year.”

“So last year, a group went over to Bulgaria and then two years ago is when I met the Bulgarian squad the first time when they were in Portland.”

“Kids are kids, right,” Napolitano said. “It is interesting to see whether they are from Bulgaria or the states, how well they get along. They pick up the language quickly, but the Bulgarians are great people. They are friendly. They are welcoming.


“When we go there, they treat us like kings so we try to return the favor when they come here. A lot of these kids go to sports school. They go to school and focus on wrestling. They practice two times a day, year-round.”

Napolitano added that the Bulgarians have been visiting other wrestling camps around the Pine Tree State. 

“We are trying to spread it around the state to get as many kids involved as we can,” he said. “The team they brought is very accomplished. They have kids who are national medalists, Balkans medalists and European medalists.”

Bulgarian wrestler Tanya Teneva is not only enjoying meeting other wrestlers but her visit to the states has been exciting.

“It is a beautiful country,” Teneva said through Delev. “She is very impressed with the people, impressed with the hospitality. The wresting experience she is getting, she is very impressed with all the kids coming in who are committed to attempting to wrestle.

“She thinks they (Americans) are really great young people. If they keep working hard, they can grow up a lot and they can achieve a lot of things in wrestling.”


Tisov echoed Teneva’s remarks.

 “It is sport who teaches me respect, who teaches me discipline and gives me everything I need,” Tisov said through Delev. “He thinks they are very technical and physical.

“He is very thankful and happy to come here and train and meet some new friends and some American kids. New friends, new coaches, this is a really exciting thing.”

Delev added: “He is a really great kid and champion of his weight class in Bulgaria. He will be competing for a national title next Wednesday.”

The Maine athletes have impressed Bulgarian wrestling coach Pavel Mitev as well. 

“He thinks they are very, very curious to learn new things,” Mitev said through Delev. “Really into it. They don’t give up and they are open to learn new things. This is what he likes about the American kids. If they don’t really understand something, they are asking him and this is what is impressing him.”

“This is a completely different world,” Mitev added through Delev. “They are making new friends and seeing a different country. It is a different world for them, but they are making some new friendships and it is a great opportunity. But kids are kids everywhere.”


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