In a North Texas gymnasium, wrestler Tervel Dlagnev is repaying a debt. "It's given a ton to me, and I'm excited anytime I can give back to the sport, especially Texas, my roots. This is where I started," Dlagnev said.
The 26-year-old, who graduated from Arlington High School, will represent Team USA at the London Olympics in the 120 kilogram weight class of freestyle wrestling. With London on the way, Dlagnev still makes time to teach young wrestlers.
He knows how wrestling can change a child's life. "I got in trouble a lot. I took all of my exams, end of the year exams in OCS. Not a bad kid, like with bad intentions. No sense of authority," Dlagnev said.
That all changed when Dlagnev connected with Coach Henry Harmoney at Arlington H.S. "We think that any kid who has a dream can make that dream happen," said Harmoney.
Dlagnev didn't start wrestling until his sophomore year. But by the time he graduated, he was one of the top wrestlers in Texas.
Dlagnev's academic performance also improved. "Grades went up. I started thinking about college," Dlagnev said.
Wrestling led Dlagnev to the University of Nebraska-Kearney. That's where he met the woman who would become his wife.
Kirsten Dlagnev describes her husband as a gentle giant. "People are like, 'does he get in fights, or is he like scary and mean' and I'm like, 'no, he's probably the last person you would ever see in a fight,'" she said.
Tervel gives much of the credit for his success to Kirsten. "She just knows how to keep me at ease. She knows exactly what to say," Tervel said.
Kirsten has also learned how to cook Bulgarian food, like Tervel's mother. "He eats a lot of feta, plain Greek yogurt. I'm his little personal chef, 'What do you want for dinner?' 'What do you want for lunch?' 'What do you want for your 6th meal?'" said Kristien Dlagnev.
Tervel's grueling training regimen requires that he eat up to 6000 calories a day.
He is also fueled by his deep faith. He wears a shirt, designed by Kirsten, emblazoned with the Olympic rings. "The Olympic rings are actually Bible verses. Each one is a different verse that motivates me," he explained.
The coach who set Dlagnev on the long raod to London says his former student is ready to reach the top. "He's wrestled in every major international tournament and basically won most of them," Harmoney said. "He truly has a legitimate shot at gold.
Dlagnev also believes. "I've envisioned that podium so many times. Me on top of it. Star-Spangled Banner. Hand on chest. Crying. Got a little wreath. It's going to be sweet," he said.
Dlagnev is a former member of the Arlington Storm Wrestling Club, and the club is raising money to help send Dlagnev's family to London to watch him compete. Find more information on the fund raising effort at www.arlingtonstorm.com.