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Tennis couple says Vic Trilli never gave up on them

Athletic Director Vic Trilli has just announced his retirement, which will happen at the end of this year.

But during his 10-year career at Newman, Trilli has met and gotten to know hundreds of student athletes.

Two of them, after hearing about Trilli’s impending departure, felt compelled to share a personal story of Trilli’s influence in their lives.

On Dec. 31, 2015, Tamar Tskhakaia, an international student from the country of Georgia and a women’s tennis player, received a notice that her visa to return to the country after the holiday break had been denied.  Separated by an ocean, in a situation where no one seemed to listen, Tskhakaia and her boyfriend, tennis player Eduardo Santos, felt as though they were living a nightmare.

Santos and Tskhakaia both received their bachelor’s degree at Newman and are now in their second season as graduate assistants for the tennis team. They say that if it weren’t Trilli, they would not be here today.

The night her visa was denied, Tskhakaia said, she immediately called Santos, an international student from Brazil, telling him she was desperate for help.

“I didn’t know who to contact but my coach,” Santos said. “Then we wrote some emails to everyone we could think of, that we needed some intervention from the school to get her visa approved.”

Santos and Tskhakaia said they reached out to professors, coaches and advisors.

Santos said the school ultimately provided a few more documents to the embassy proving Tskhakaia’s status as a student, but ultimately they were not enough. Two weeks later, after making another 10- hour drive to the embassy and spending a couple hundred more dollars for a second interview, Tskhakaia found out her visa was denied again.

After the second time, Santos said he noticed things began to look less hopeful “and it got pretty rough.” He said it felt like no one they contacted could do anything more to help, and the couple were out to fend for themselves. This was the first time he decided to call Trilli.

Even though he did not know Trilli personally, Santos said, there was almost an instant connection when he asked for help. Trilli stood out to Santos and Tskhakaia because “he would not give up.”

“If I got a student that’s hurting, I just know I’ve go to do something. I’ve got to take care of them. It’s just the right thing to do,” Trilli said.

Santos said Trilli would answer calls from him every day, sometimes late at night and sometimes on weekends.

“Basically, the feeling I got from Newman University was that it didn’t really matter whether I was coming back or not,” Tskhakaia said, “but the feeling that I got from Vic was that it meant everything.”

Trilli contacted the state government and the NCAA to make sure Tskhakaia was still eligible to play tennis.

Still, Tskhakaia’s visa was denied a third time.

“I spent over a month in this stressful situation. I was crying all the time…As you can probably imagine, it was really hard for me and my family,” Tskhakaia said.

By this point, it was do-or-die for Tskhakaia. By the time she would come back, she would have already missed four weeks of school. If she did not get her visa within one more week, she would flunk out of Newman.    

It was 7 a.m in Trilli’s office, and Santos was nearly ready to give up.

“I said, ‘Vic, I don’t know what else to do,’” Santos said. “’I don’t know how we can bring her back,’ and out of nowhere Vic said, ‘You know what? I’m going to call a senator.’”

Trilli called Mike Pompeo, then senator and now Secretary of State, and left a message at his office in Washington, D.C. The next day, the senator called back. For the next three days, Trilli would speak with the senator about getting Tskhakaia back to Kansas.

“I don’t know what else to say except that I was swinging, hoping I hit something,” Trilli said.

Shortly after, Tskhakaia and Santos finally got the news they were hoping for.

“To put into perspective how much difference it made,” Santos said, “after the first day Vic called, Mike Pompeo called back. After the fourth day, she got her visa back.”

Santos and Tskhakaia said they both think Vic Trilli is not just a great athletic director, but a great person who embodies what Newman is all about.

“They say Newman gives you a degree of difference. If you ask me who really makes a difference here at Newman, Vic’s the guy,” said Santos.

PHOTO: TAMAR TSKHAKAIA AND EDUARDO SANTOS said they both think Vic Trilli embodies what Newman is all about. Courtesy photo, Dylan Gruntzel

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Editor-In-Chief of The Vantage