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En garde!

Bulgarian champion athlete teaches fencing in DeWitt

Lubo Kalpaktchiev grew up under the Iron Curtain and immigrated to the United States in 1999. Now he teaches students as young as 7 and adults who are well into retirement the fundamentals of fencing at his facility in Shoppingtown Mall, the Syracuse Musketeers Fencing Center. Pictured is Kalpaktchiev, helping Aaron Alexander, 20, of Syracuse, with his form during target practice.

Lubo Kalpaktchiev grew up under the Iron Curtain and immigrated to the United States in 1999. Now he teaches students as young as 7 and adults who are well into retirement the fundamentals of fencing at his facility in Shoppingtown Mall, the Syracuse Musketeers Fencing Center. Pictured is Kalpaktchiev, helping Aaron Alexander, 20, of Syracuse, with his form during target practice. Photo by Allie Wenner.

— Kalpaktchiev continued with pentathlon until one day, when he had an accident while getting on the train to go home after practice. His toes got caught in the door and he was dragged along the side of the track for a few seconds. After the accident, Kalpaktchiev spent about three months in the hospital and was not able to train with the team.

When he returned to training, Kalpaktchiev found it to be nearly impossible to get his times in swimming and running back down to where they were before the accident. He was still performing very well in fencing, and the coach suggested that he focus on it full-time. So he did, and made the Bulgarian Junior National Team for fencing at age 17. He remembers that during his time on the teams, he was able to do something almost all Bulgarians were forbidden to do: travel.

“I travelled the world, but nobody else could have gone anywhere in the west – the government was very scared of the west, and us giving out ‘the secrets of Bulgaria,’” he said. “I was 15 years old! I didn’t know anything about the secrets of Bulgaria.”

Looking back, remembers a mysterious man who would always travel with his team. At the time, Kalpaktchiev didn’t think much of it.

“Every time we would travel, there would be a guy with us,” he said. “I never knew who he was; he didn’t really talk to any of us. But years later, I found out that he was part of the KGB and was there to make sure we didn’t try to escape.”

A perk of travelling with the team was the exposure to different foods and products; many of which were banned from Bulgaria. Kalpaktchiev recalls fondly about a time he brought a pair of Nike shoes home.

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