Immigrant of the Day: Varvaro Lepchenko – Tennis Player
Tennis is on the mind as the 2015 US Open in New York is in progress. America’s #3 ranked female tennis player, Varvaro Lepchenko, is doing well and is now in the fourth round of the tournament. Lepchenko is a native of Uzbekistan. In these times when we’re hearing more and more about refugees and asylees and how many countries are turning away these desperate people, it helps to show examples of people who fled their countries and have built successful lives in their receiving countries. Varvaro Lepchenko, whose family received asylum status in the US in 2001 after fleeing one of the most repressive governments in a region filled with repressive regimes, is certainly a good example of the contributions refugees and asylees make to our country.
The 29 year old Lepchenko is enjoying a solid last several years playing deep in to several Grand Slam events. This is the first time she’s made it to the Round of 16 at a Grand Slam event. She also represented the US in the 2012 Olympics in London, something she considers one of her proudest accomplishments.
Lepchenko’s story also shows some of the real challenges faced by asylees and refugees in the immigration process. Lepchenko, her sister and father received asylum in 2001, but their mother Larissa was left behind in Uzbekistan. It took the family nearly six years for Larissa to be able to join them in the US. Larissa also wasn’t able to travel to international tournaments earlier in her career because of her immigration status.
And like many asylees, she faced financial difficulties. Her family had almost no money when they arrived and were moving from place to place because they could not afford rent. But Varvara was a talented teenage tennis player in Uzbekistan and was trying to make it in the sport in the US. She and her father were traveling to a tournament in Allentown, Pennsylvania and the Butz family hosted them, as they had hosted players traveling to the tournament in prior year. Shari Butz and Varvara bonded and what was to be a two day stay turned in to a permanent home for several years. Shari also set Varvara up in a local tennis club and the stability no doubt played a crucial role in Lepchenko’s career development. The Butz family is like many other unsung heroes across the US who have volunteered their time and made financial sacrifices to help refugees in need.