This year (2022) marks my 10th Summer Training Camp in Bulgaria, and the feeling of wanting to stay and go back never leaves me. All the different locations that I have been to in Bulgaria from Burgas, to Sofia, to Varna, nothing compares to being in Sandanski, which is the hometown of my Coach, mentor, brother, and best friend of 15+ years, Simeon Kyurchiev. Every year, the camp only gets better, and I honestly don’t know how it could be made more perfect in terms of accommodation, training sessions, mountain hikes, mud baths, guest instructors, spa, and too many other outstanding parts.
My expectations vs reality for the camp is indescribable. First of all, meeting the team at the airport feels like you haven’t seen each other for years even though we were training together the previous day shows how much of a family we are. Travelling together as a unit, and looking after each other, where the more experienced team members get to tell their experience of previous summer camps and the new members are listening as if they’re travelling to another planet. As soon as you get to the airport, and you walk out into the 40C heat, you can almost smell the training session that’s waiting around the corner, all the fatigue and exhaustion suddenly leaves your body and the adrenaline starts pumping. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel is a rare event, as everybody falls victim to being photographed with their most unattractive sleeping face amongst other things but I’ll leave the rest for the imagination. Bus rides in Bulgaria tend to bring out people’s true facial expressions, (It might be the snacks that Simeon provides)
Pirin Park 5 Star Spa Hotel is an outstanding venue, and words or photos will not do it justice. This place provides everything you would want from amazing fresh food, to gym facilities, to swimming pools, to salt rooms, a full spa and many more. Perfect for a speedy recovery and healing. The people of Sandanski are amongst the most generous and hospitable that I have ever met. Personally, the only place I have felt I was home other than Lebanon, was in Sandanski. The place is full of positivity and energy that one cannot describe.
We have on average three to four training sessions a day, starting from as early as 5.30 AM, and after 10 training camps, I realised that sleep is your best friend, otherwise your body will be in training, but your brain is still in the room dreaming about unicorns and marshmallows.
When I first met Simeon’s coach, it was almost as if I had just met my great grandfather. It was so overwhelmingly positive; I get teary-eyed when I think about such a beautiful and strong human being. His life experience, knowledge, and wisdom will change your life forever, just like he changed Simeon’s life, and like Simeon changed mine.
The wrestling coach, Kiril Handzhiyski, is apparently from the human species, but to this day, I still have my doubts. One of the strongest, fittest, driven, and most humble immortals I have met in my life. This man knows no limits. His generosity, hospitality, and kindness know no bounds, and a day with this machine of a man, will unlock the next stage of human, and a 6th sense. He’s not only a giant physically, he’s a giant with his influence, love, and support as he has dedicated his whole life to helping others become the best version of themselves.
Last but not least, the Karate Legend, the absolute world champion, Sensei Zahari Damyanov was the special guest this year, bringing his fighting knowledge that played a major role in his fight to win the toughest full contact tournament in the world. Meeting him and sitting down with him discussing future plans and having endless fight talk was something more than special. He redefines the meaning of fighting in a way that I have yet to experience, and it has had a major influence in my fighting style moving forward, and I am forever thankful.
A page or two are not enough to describe this experience. You need to be there, see it, feel it. It is not an event to be missed, and with a tear in my eye, I hope to see you there on the next one…