We can learn a lot from Amphitheater's Marie Nzeyimana

April 17, 2015 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

Marie Nzeyimana
(Andy Morales AZPreps365.com)

Imagine walking from Tucson to Flagstaff and then walking back again. Now imagine doing it day and night for a month. Even still, do it in the middle of a war with just your mother by your side.

No matter what you can imagine it still wouldn't measure up to the horror that Tucson Amphitheater freshman tennis standout Marie Nzeyimana faced when she was only 4-years-old living in the war-torn African country of Burundi.

Nzeyimana and her mother not only made the journey from their home country to Uganda, they did it after witnessing the deaths of grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings. To put it plainly, they were slaughtered. Slaughtered in front of them.

"I barley remember much but my mom is still traumatized," Marie told me in almost perfect English. "I remember my grandmother Nibiera. I miss her."

The Burundian Civil War lasted from 1993 to 2005. Some 300,000 people were killed,  mostly women and children according to the United Nations. Many fled to refugee camps and many just took off, not knowing where they were going but they knew they had to leave.

"We knew the government was looking for us so we walked day and night for a month to escape. One day a man in a red truck drove past us and gave us a ride. He was a kind and gentle man. I will never forget him,"  Marie added.

Marie and her mother made it to safety in Uganda and they eventually found a home in Tucson some three years ago.

"I'm not sure why they brought us to Tucson. It was a shock."

Jackie Lynch was a mid-year hire at Amphitheater. As an English Language Development (ELD) counselor, Lynch comes into contact with children from diverse backgrounds.

Besides her counseling duties, the school asked her if she would consider coaching tennis and she agreed.

"We have players from the Philippines, Mexico, Burundi, Sudan and Burma on our roster," said Lynch. "They are all hard workers. They just want to work. They have great attitudes and are always learning."

Marie picked up English quickly and has only been playing tennis for a few weeks. Even better, she is an advanced placement student in the school's Cambridge Academy.

She put up a battle of sorts in her match against Tucson Tanque Verde's Madison Driskill Friday in an important section match but, even though Driskill won 6-3, 6-1, Marie left the court with a smile. And why not?

If you cover tennis long enough you will witness some pampered athletes slam their rackets, cuss or even throw their expensive equipment over the fence in the face of defeat. Those kids don't know real defeat or what defeat really means.

Not Marie. Marie knows real defeat but she also knows real victory. Being the first one to six is important in a box score but real victory means surviving to play another day.

If Nibiera was at the Tucson Racquet Club today she would have seen a young woman excited for her first high school prom.  We all joked with her about her "date" and she took it in stride and threw jokes right back at us.

No one knows what has happened to the thousands of other children who fled in the night but we know about Marie.

She is safe.