Recently, FasterSkier interviewed the youngest elite female coach on the American circuit. This week, FS shares the story of one of the most experienced elite female club coaches in the U.S., Pepa Miloucheva of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) in Craftsbury, Vt.
Like many in the field, before Miloucheva — better known as “Pepa” — was ever a coach, she was an athlete. Unlike many, she is also a world champ.
“I was a competitor for the Bulgarian [ski orienteering] women’s team and won the world championships in 1994,” she said during a recent phone interview. “I’ve been competing since I was 15, 16 years old. Sports, in general, made me who I am.”
Sports like nordic skiing, ski orienteering and sculling are just a few that appear on the elite coach’s list of expertise.
While Miloucheva, 48, claims she no longer races, her question “does the New York Marathon from last year count?” challenges that claim. Instead, she devotes her time, specifically the last 20 years, to being a coach.
“I have my master’s in sports science, so coaching is my education,” she said. With a master’s degree from the Bulgarian Sports University and concentrations in physiology, biomechanics and science of sports training, Miloucheva has the education to back up her business in coaching.
For Miloucheva, school never stops. “Coaches need to be willing to constantly learn,” she said. “When I have a new athlete, I have to get to know them in and out. Every person has different strengths and you learn from each one.”
Meanwhile, she prioritizes the instructional development of her skiers. “A big part of [coaching] is educating the athlete,” Miloucheva said. “I talk to my athletes a lot about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Every time I send them a training schedule, I make sure they understand it and if they don’t understand something, then I explain it to them.”
Even if the call for that explanation comes during her hours of sleep.
“Pepa puts an incredible amount of time and effort into her coaching and is always available to help,” Ida Sargent, a U.S. Ski Team member now in her sixth season with the CGRP, wrote in an email. “I’ve called her in the middle of the night before when I’m in Europe and she always picks up the phone.”
Sargent, 27, describes Miloucheva’s coaching style as one of “complete dedication,” and she feels Craftsbury offers something most programs do not.
“I love the mission behind the GRP program,” Sargent wrote. “It’s really neat to have skiers, biathletes, and rowers in the same location towards similar goals of success. … Working with Pepa and has given me a continuity in coaching that allows me to train without missing a beat.”
Having been coached by Miloucheva since she was 8 years old, Sargent, from Orleans, Vt., just north of Craftsbury, has enjoyed a rare continuity of coaching.
That’s stemmed from Miloucheva’s ambition. When initially asked to help work at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Miloucheva recalls, “they had a nordic junior program and a master’s program, but were missing the level of people who were graduating college. So we started [the CRGP].”
Even so, Miloucheva explained she never intended to coach competitively in the U.S.
“I wasn’t planning to stay in Vermont,” she said. “I had a friend living in Craftsbury and planned to just stay for the winter. Then I stayed 19 more years.”
Regardless of her original intentions, Miloucheva’s current goals rest within the Vermont-based program.
“Right now, my biggest thing [is] making sure our levels all the way from BKL to the elite [are] well developed,” she said.“I really hope for us to have everyone, from 5 year olds to masters, ski all the levels.”
“She was hired by the Center as a ski instructor and soon had a flock of youngsters following her tracks around the Soccer Fields,” John Brodhead, Craftsbury skiing director wrote in an email. “At the same time she had a following of Elderhostelers [60-and-over citizens who go on travel-and-learning vacations] demanding her as their instructor. Pepa’s excitement about x-c skiing is contagious. She is in many ways responsible for Craftsbury’s reputation as a premiere Center for Nordic skiing.”
With many of the nation’s top skiers and biathletes joining her team, the reputation of Miloucheva and the CGRP says a lot.
“Generally, I haven’t done much recruitment,” she said. “People know the program. If athletes feel the program is the best fit for them, then they apply. Acceptance depends on available spaces we have and how many athletes we can support. It’s really about the athletes and whether they want to be here.”
According to Miloucheva, the athlete is responsible for picking the program.
“I wasn’t planning to stay in Vermont. I had a friend living in Craftsbury and planned to just stay for the winter. Then I stayed 19 more years.” — Pepa Miloucheva, head coach of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project
“Nothing is static with our training on the GRP,” four-year CRGP skier Caitlin Patterson, 25, wrote in an email. “Certainly we have workouts that we return to time and time again, and Pepa especially has her favorites in which we athletes suffer greatly (and grow stronger for it) – but it’s great to have a program where I can always ask why and learn the reasons behind a workout, or I can start a discussion and influence a change in how we structure our workouts in the future.”
Ultimately, the combination of a well-driven program and driven athletes has made the CGRP successful. “Like everything in life, sometimes you get discouraged, but we work through it together,” said Miloucheva. “With skiing you’re always an individual, but also a team.”
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.