“The Tabunshchyk Affair: The Bear Turns Sleuth”

Written by: Pierre Lamarche

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***When I was on tour, I was so poor [reflection of my earnings], I spent my free time playing backgammon and reading. One of my favorite authors was John Le Carre, author of ”Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Many of his books featured master spy George Smiley, who was both brilliant and unremarkable and who could unravel the greatest secrets. I dreamed of having similar intellectual skills to duplicate Smiley’s ability at unearthing the truth, when it was hidden under layers of deception. Here is my chance, finding the truth about “The Tabunshchyk Affair”, where it has been insinuated that a young player is misrepresenting her age as a way to benefit in competition.***

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In the spring of 2008, I was approached by Kyrylo Tabunshchyk, who could have played the part of the bad Russian guy in a James Bond movie, except for his affable and infectious smile. He came to Burlington, on a trip from Edmonton to Ottawa, specifically to convince me to give him the opportunity to work with ACE Tennis. Kyrylo told me he had come to Canada in December 2002 with his wife Zoya, who had been a pretty good national level junior tennis player back in Ukraine, and their daughter Viktoriya, who was just about to turn 2. Kyrylo was lecturing Physics at Queens University when the family first came to Canada. In 2004, the Tabunshchyk’s applied for permanent Canadian resident status, when Vita was 3 ½   years old. Kyrylo, with a PhD in Physics, was a former swimming U14 champion of the Soviet Union and was doing research in Edmonton at the University of Alberta with Zoya, who was a doctor in Ukraine. He wanted to move to Burlington to provide his daughter Vita an opportunity to be in a serious training environment. She was seven years old at that time.

Needless to say, I was a little skeptical about how Kyrylo could fit into our organisation, except that having brain power around you makes everybody better. The fact that he was his daughter’s coach, had just started coaching other players, and only played recreational tennis himself, certainly was not in his favor. But then, he showed me an exquisite video of Vita and how he had systematically applied the progressive data from Tennis Canada to make her into a great player with outstanding potential. I suddenly was won over as I saw the unbelievable potential both in Vita and Kyrylo. We worked out the parameters of an agreement, and he and his family came to work with us in Burlington in the fall of 2008. He was put in charge of ACE Tennis tournaments and the Progressive Training programs.

Vita started playing the day she arrived in Burlington and has not stopped since. She was registered with the OTA through providing her permanent resident card [which matched her mom’s Ukrainian passport]. The information stated Vita as being born in Lviv, Ukraine on January 7th, 2001. That makes Vita eleven years old.

So why is there confusion? Here I get to be George Smiley. When Kyrylo visited me in the spring of 2008, he told me Vita was seven. By the time she came here in August, Vita kept saying she was 8. The only problem was that her birthday was in January. So I asked Kyrylo what happened. He told me that when he moved to Edmonton, he signed Vita up for tennis lessons at the Saville Sport Centre. Vita was about to turn 5, but the age limit was 6 years old to sign up for lessons. They told the people at the Saville Club that she was six and as a result, made Vita believe she was six.

During the last four years, I often mentioned the story to others, as it was the first time that I had heard about someone making their child older to bypass some subjective tennis rule. Kyrylo and I often talked about it, and he wanted her to believe she was a year older so she could compete with the older kids. According to Zoya, “until spring 2010 she thought she was a year older, which is why she celebrated her 10-year-old birthday twice at Cedar Springs. When she was nine, she became old enough to be told her actual age and to understand our reason behind it.”

This might not be the most conventional approach, but no harm was meant or done. To insinuate any type of treachery is to not respect the greatness of this Ukrainian family which is now part of our Canadian society. I am so proud of the whole family, including Anna who was born in Canada. They are the Canadian dream, and that is why I am so proud of being Canadian. Go Vita, we are with you until the end. Meanwhile, Kyrylo has his own following “Kyrylo’s army” which is growing in numbers and performances.

This is the Tabunshchyk story or, more to the point, the start of their Canadian journey as much remains to be written about this outstanding family.

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