Don't Give Up on your dream
I would like to start with my experience in sports, particularly in gymnastics, because this has always been my greatest passion in life. Being involved in this sport established the foundation of many other interests, such as coaching gymnastics, teaching physical education and promoting physical activity in schools, as well as studying and researching areas which can maximise sports performance and improve general health and well-being through exercise and nutrition.
I have never been an elite athlete (the ones who are paid to represent their club or country in professional competitions), yet I consider my achievements to be quite significant based on the following circumstances: diagnosed with Perthes disease at a young age (a condition where the top of the thigh bone in the hip joint softens and stops functioning), I had been told by physicians not to practise any physical activities, and was even prevented from participating in physical education classes at school. It is said that when there is nothing to lose, you can only win! And as the American business magnate Steve Jobs put it, 'you are already naked and there is no reason not to follow your heart': from disability at a young age to taking part at the national level of the professional sport. Never Give Up! And I didn't!
I started training in artistic gymnastics at the end of 2002 and the skills I acquired, as well as the body transformation I experienced, are all priceless to me. Although I was already 15 and some people tried to denigrate my desire to progress, step-by-step, gymnastics became a major part of my life. My first official competition as a gymnast was in 2007, competing for Levski Gymnastics Club. My best individual result is 4th place in the National Mens Rings Final in the 2012 Bulgarian Gymnastics Championships, competing for my university team A-Gym NSA Gymnastics Club. I am also a three-time London rings champion, multiple veteran champion on different apparatuses, and I had the opportunity to compete together with some of my favourite elite gymnasts, such as Jordan Jovchev, Yuri van Gelder and Courtney Tulloch. Well, I am actually very proud of these achievements, considering the fact that the physicians once said that I would not even be able to do sports because of my hip problem, and national coaches said that there was no point in even starting to do gymnastics as it was already too late. I understand that not everyone can achieve a gold medal, but actually, everyone can be a winner! Yes, everyone, and my message to you is: Don't Give Up on your dream!
One of my greatest lifetime goals was to attain the highest possible level of degree worldwide, the PhD degree. On 30th of May 2018, at the age of 30, I defended my dissertation and I was admited to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and then in November that year, I was awarded the PhD certificate. At that very moment, one dream came true. But let me start a few years earlier. I started demonstrating a genuine interest in science and scientific work some years ago during my four-year course for a Bachelor's Degree in Sports and Physical Education at the National Sports Academy, 'Vassil Levski' - Sofia.
My first assignment, entitled: 'The Importance of Selection in Artistic Gymnastics', enjoyed great success and was judged to be the best out of all of the submissions of my fellow students. Moreover, lecturers from the Gymnastics Department agreed that, in the following years, my work should be presented to all other first-year students as a brilliant examplar.
I Loved Learning About the Human Body
Amongst my favourite subjects at university were: Functional Anatomy, Biochemistry, Biomechanics and the Analysis of Sports Techniques, Sports Medicine, Physiology, Physiotherapy, Psychology, and the Theory and Methods of Sports Training. My growing motivation and interests were stimulated by warm comments and friendly encouragement from teachers and lecturers in different departments at the Sports Academy. Some lecturers highlighted my diligence, which can be witnessed in my very highly praised notebooks with colourful diagrams and illustrations.
Inspiration for a Lifetime
My first significant achievement was related to my coursework at the Gymnastics Department of the National Sports Academy in 2011. After being supported and guided by my supervisor, Associate Professor Ilia Kiuchukov, Ph.D. (featured on the photo), I gave an excellent presentation of my coursework and I was handsomely rewarded with the following statement, made by Professor Nikola Hadjiev, D.Sc.:
'Dear colleagues, this is a wonderful example of a coursework, very well illustrated, and it has been presented in a magical way. We’ve known this student (Stefan Kolimechkov) for 4 years from our lectures, and I suggest that we should award an excellent mark of the highest category. Congratulations! It has been a real pleasure for us.'
Professor Nikola Hadjiev (1936-2014), Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences, was one of my lecturers at the National Sports Academy. He was also
a member of the Executive Committee of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) between 1976-1992, and its first Vice-President from 1980 to 1984. Professor Hadjiev was the
rector of the National Sports Academy between 1979 and 1987, and the President of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation for a period of 20 years (1970-1990). He is an author of more than 130 scientific publications, 27 books, textbooks and other scientific materials.
Last Good Bye Professor Hadjiev
First-Class Honours Bachelor's Degree
After the success of my coursework, the paper was extended into a dissertation. In June 2011, I successfully defended my Bachelor's dissertation, entitled 'Comparative kinematic analysis of the dismounts - double back straight somersault and double back straight somersault with 360° twist on the men's still rings', and after passing my state exams, I was awarded a First-Class Honours Bachelor's Degree in two majors (Sport and Physical Education).
During my time of study at the National Sports Academy, I attended department conferences, scientific workshops and annual conferences with the participation of delegates from around the world, all of which were of great interest to me.
First-Class Honours Master's Degree
In 2012, I directed my interests towards nutrition and physical fitness, which are crucial factors affecting human health. My Master's dissertation focussed on the assessment of the diet of pre-school and young school children who were engaged in artistic gymnastics. For this scientific project I was guided by Dr Lubomir Petrov, Ph.D. from the Department of Biochemistry and Physiology at the National Sports Academy, and thanks to his expertise and support, my dissertation enjoyed great success and it was awarded the highest possible mark. After what was judged to be an excellent dissertation defence in front of the Department of Physical Education at the National Sports Academy, scoring a GPA over the entire course of Excellent 5.94, and after collecting 62 credits (1410 hours & dissertation defence), at the end of 2012 I officially obtained my Master’s degree in Physical Education from the National Sports Academy in Bulgaria. The university has a good reputation for physical education and sports science studies, and the training structures and programmes for obtaining a degree in physical education and teacher qualifications are entirely in compliance with the European standards and requirements.
Path to a PhD
At the end of my Master's degree, I was strongly encouraged by my supervisors and other lecturers from the University to consider doing a PhD. In the beginning, I looked at this as an interesting opportunity, and after a while, this idea grew up into a lifetime goal. In 2013, my first publication, entitled Assessment of the Physical Development of Pre-school and Primary school Children practising Artistic Gymnastics, appeared in the Bulgarian journal Sport & Science. In 2014, I started preparing a project proposal for a Doctoral Thesis. The next year I submitted my proposal to the National Sports Academy in Bulgaria, and in July 2015 I was officially enrolled for a three-year distant learning PhD degree in Physical Education. The participants for my PhD thesis included primary school children from gymnastics clubs in England and Bulgaria.
In 2016, my supervisors and I published another article which appeared in the African Journal for Physical Activity and Health Sciences. At the beginning of 2017, I was awarded the Registered Scientist status (RSci) by the Science Council in the UK and its professional body BASES. After that, I published my first article as a lead and only author in the European Journal of Physical Education and Sport Science, and I was invited to join the Editorial Board of this international journal. In June 2017, I was officially recognised as a Certified Exercise Practitioner by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In September 2017, I was accepted as a FIEP New Leader, and I went to Luxembourg to represent our scientific team at the 12th FIEP European Congress, where I gave a poster presentation on our study entitled BeepShuttle: Software for assessing the cardiorespiratory fitness of children and adolescents. In November 2017, I participated at the UK's top event in sport and exercise sciences, which was the BASES Conference 2017 in Nottingham, where I presented a study on handgrip strength in children in the poster sessions. In December 2017, I gave a presentation on physical activity assessment in the parallel sessions of the First International Congress of Applied Sports Sciences in Sofia, which marked 75 years since the establishment of the National Sports Academy in Bulgaria. This was an astonishing moment for me, because I started as a Bachelor student at the very same university, and during the following few years I also attended its international conferences. I was always inspired by the many scientists whose talks I had the pleasure and privilege to listen to, and then in 2017, I had the honour of being chosen as a delegate and, in this capacity, presented our own study.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
One dream came true! 2018 was probably the most successful year in my life. On 30 May 2018, at the age of 30, I was officially admitted to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and in November 2018, I was awarded my PhD certificate. It was an honor to present my Doctoral Dissertation in front of an audience, including the Scientific Jury for this Official PhD Defence, lecturers and researchers from 3 Departments of the National Sports Academy (Biochemistry and Physiology, Gymnastics, and Physical Education), as well as parents of the gymnasts I coached and some of the gymnasts themselves. Throughout the year I published 3 articles in international peer-reviewed journals as a lead or co-author. In July 2018, I was given the honorary position of the Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of Physical Education and Sport Science (ISSN 2501 - 1235). In September 2018, I presented the combined sets of European physical fitness percentile scores for children and adolescents for the Alpha-fit test battery at the 13th FIEP European Congress in Istanbul, Turkey. In November 2018, І рrеѕеntеd preliminary findings from our study on physical fitness of young artistic gymnasts from Bulgaria at the parallel sessions of the UK's top event in sport and exercise sciences, BASES Conference 2018 in Harrogate.
In 2019, I published 5 articles in international peer-reviewed journals and 2 articles in conference proceedings as lead or co-author. In July 2019, I participated at the biggest and most prestigious event in sports science in Europe, the ECSS Congress. At this Congress I presented findings from our study on body composition and nutrient intake of elite rhythmic gymnasts from Bulgaria. This has been my top event in which I had a chance to present research to date. In February 2020, I published my first article as a co-author in British Impact Factor journal. On the whole, I published 5 articles in international peer-reviewed journals throughout 2020. I also presented research at the virtual ECSS Anniversary Congress in October 2020. 8 years after I moved to live in the UK, at the age of 33, I accomplished one of my lifetime goals, I obtained my British citizenship. My official ceremony was held at the Woolwich Town Hall (headquarters of the Greenwich London Borough Council) in London on the 19th of November 2020.
I have taken part in multidisciplinary research in sport and exercise sciences, including health-related physical fitness of children and adolescents practising artistic gymnastics; nutritional assessments of young artistic gymnasts and elite rhythmic gymnasts; body composition of elite rhythmic gymnasts; changes in heart rate and blood lactate concentration in elite female and male karate competitors; physical activity assessments; application of hypoxicators in elite rowers; erythrocyte oxidative status after maximal aerobic test in wrestlers; sports tools to assess aerobic fitness in children and adults, to name but a few.
My research is published in different international peer-reviewed journals, such as the International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching (IF 1.253), Science of Gymnastics Journal, Human. Sport. Medicine, Pedagogy of Physical Culture and Sports, and others. I presented scientific research at many international academic conferences in sport and exercise sciences around the world, including the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
Teaching and Coaching
As a qualified artistic gymnastics coach, I like teaching motivated children who want to develop their physical state through gymnastic exercises. I coached gymnastics for a period of 5 years at one of the biggest Bulgarian gymnastics clubs, Levski Gymnastics Club. My students participated in many sports events and gymnastics competitions all over the country, and they won medals, awards and diplomas in national gymnastics competitions and tournaments in Bulgaria.
During my professional pedagogical practice, which was part of my studies for a Bachelor's degree at university, I was teaching physical education lessons to students between the ages of 14 and 18. Over a period of one month (25 Apr - 20 May 2011) I conducted classes at the 91st German Language School, 'Professor Konstantin Galabov', in the city of Sofia.
United Kingdom (2013-present)
Immediately after I completed my Master's degree, I moved to live and work in London, the capital of the UK, as this was one of my biggest lifetime goals. In 2013, I was awarded the Level 2 coaching qualification from British Gymnastics. I worked as a gymnastics coach for the Elite Gymnastics Academy CIC in a period of 8 years. My students and I participated in different events in order to popularise the sport of gymnastics, and they won medals and certificates from club and regional gymnastics competitions. All of these significant moments throughout my career as a gymnastics coach can be seen on the Gymnastics Coaching Page.
In 2014 I obtained the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) from the Department of Education in the United Kingdom. In addition to coaching for the gymnastics club, I also worked as a gymnastics teacher, once a week, at St Edmund's Primary School in London from January 2015 until July 2018. Moreover, I volunteered as a Physical Education Assistant at this school for those 3.5 years, and some of the children participated in the control group for my PhD research. I was featured twice in the school newsletter, and the Year 1 and Year 2 gymnastics school teams won 3rd places at the Borough Gymnastics Festival, which was their best finish to date!
In 2018, I completed my Level 3 coaching qualification with British Gymnastics. I have been running my personal coaching business (STK Sport) as a self-employed for many years now, and I have more than 10 years of experience as a gymnastics coach, teaching children from 4 to 14 years of age at all levels and abilities. I provide personal gymnastics lessons for children and personal yoga sessions in the comfort of client's homes in London. My hobby is my job, and I love it!