How a world champion gymnast from Bulgaria landed on Nantucket.
Nantucket is a hotbed for talent. Top performers in the worlds of entertainment, sports, politics and business are all drawn to the island like bluefish to sand eels. But it’s not just Fortune 100 CEOs and hedge fund managers touting impressive resumes. Very often the person waiting your table or bagging your groceries on Nantucket is secretly a veritable star in their own right. Such is the case with Greta Hristova, who before she was a waitress at Ventuno and a clerk at Stop & Shop, was a world champion gymnast in Bulgaria.
Three years ago, Hristova was a teenager in Bulgaria whose daily life was nothing like that of her friends. She would spend twelve to fifteen hours each day training in rhythmic gymnastics, a discipline that combines ballet, dance and what’s known as “apparatus manipulation” — twirling batons, balancing balls, or waving a ribbon as she tumbled across the floor. Hristova won multiple national championships, earning her spot on Bulgaria’s national team at the ripe age of 14. “I wasn’t ready for what was about to come,” she says. “We trained from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., with one hour break. It wasn’t only a physical challenge but a psychological one.” Her team took top spots in every competition around the world, representing Bulgaria in Spain, Finland, Japan, Russia, the Faroe Islands and many others.
“The adrenaline rush hits you so hard,” Hristova says of the moment she would step onto the floor for her two and a half-minute routine in competition. “You feel excitement and fear — and that’s when you realize the countless hours of training were worth it.” Hristova’s parents were always in the audience, but despite her great promise, they perceived gymnastics as more of a hobby than a career. Education came first. They supported her aspirations as a gymnast, but also expected her to be an excellent student.
“If I received a lower grade in school, my parents didn’t let me go to my training,” she says. Eventually, her fellow national teammates switched to being homeschooled with private tutors because the training was so intensive. “But I was the only one who still went to school full time,” Hristova says. “My father told my trainer he would let me be part of the national team only if I continued studying full time.”
The balancing act paid off. Hristova earned a full scholarship to the American University in Bulgaria — but attending classes would come at the cost of her gymnastics career. “I felt lost,” she says of leaving gymnastics to pursue higher education. “For me, stepping out of the sports hall meant stepping out of my comfort zone. I still don’t know which way to go, but I got to know myself. I had to face a new kind of challenge.”
One of these new challenges was becoming more independent. Hristova decided to sign up for a work/travel visa program in the United States, which brought her to Nantucket three summers ago. “I didn’t know where I was going when I arrived on the island,” she remembers. “My first job was at Stop & Shop and it was quite a shock the first two weeks.” Navigating jobs, housing and the island itself felt more daunting at times than competing on the world gymnastics stage. But Hristova fell in love with Nantucket and has returned every summer since to work.
Last summer, she tried to organize a children’s gymnastics class on the island, but she couldn’t find a space she could afford to rent. Undeterred, Hristova plans on attempting to launch her children’s classes next year. Because if her career as a champion gymnast has taught her anything, it’s that hard work and persistence always pay off.