DeWitt When Lubo Kalpaktchiev arrived in Syracuse from his hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria in 1999, he had nothing – no money, no knowledge of the English language or American culture.
Now, 15 years later, Kalpaktchiev owns his own fencing club in Shoppingtown Mall, called the Syracuse Musketeers Fencing Center. In addition to coaching at the club, he also teaches fencing classes at Syracuse University and LeMoyne College, is a swimming instructor at the downtown YMCA and has held fencing summer camps at Manlius Pebble Hill and the Jewish Community Center. Thanks to the hard work he put in over the years, he’s able to do what he loves every day.
“America is the best country in the world,” Kalpaktchiev said. “If you come here and you work hard, you can have a middle-class, normal life. When I came here I had nothing, but now I live easily and I do what I love to do; for me, this isn’t really work.”
Growing up in communist Bulgaria in the late 1970s, Kalpaktchiev’s early childhood was similar to that of many other kids who came of age under the Iron Curtain. He remembers only having certain fruits - like bananas and oranges - in the wintertime because that was the only time the government would make them available. He said that meat was also scarce, and that no one was allowed to travel to Western Europe.
Kalpaktchiev excelled at swimming at a young age and was sent to an Olympic training school for talented Bulgarian kids at age 10. From fifth to eighth grade, Kalpaktchiev would wake up, practice swimming, go to school, and swim some more. After four years of this, he was burnt out. His mother became concerned and pulled him out of the school.
He attended a public high school and quickly became interested in pentathlon, an Olympic event that features five sports: swimming, horseback riding, shooting, running and fencing. He started training that year and made the Bulgarian Junior National Team.