23-years ago, a cash gift of $100 from a generous American aboard an airline flight inspired hope in a pair of young women fleeing the former-Yugoslavia during the country’s collapse.
After two decades, they wanted to find the mysterious woman again, but they only knew her first name—Tracy.
Now, after some amateur sleuthing and their internet post going viral, their longing has turned into a reunion that left both women in tears.
Ayda Zugay was 12-years old in 1999, when she and her sister Vanja Contino fled the war sparked by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Aboard a Northwest Airlines flight, an American tennis coach, seeing their plight, slipped them an envelope.
In it were a pair of dangly earrings, $100, and a letter that read “I am so sorry that the bombing of your country has caused you and your family problems. I hope your stay in America is a safe and happy one for you. A friend from the plane—Tracy ❤️”
For years, that was the end of the story. Both prospering in America, Ayda and Vanja currently live in Boston and Connecticut.
But Ayda would never forget the kindness shown by Tracy, nor lose hope that one day the sisters would be able to say thank-you in person.
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Meanwhile, Tracy Peck, the Minneapolis tennis coach, was 70 years young, and working as a massage therapist. Recently she was alerted by a barrage of texts and phone calls that she had been the subject of a national news story. Zugay was looking for her, and Catherine Shoichet, writing for CNN, shared her intention with the world.
But the decisive moment in the search came when the refugee advocacy group, Refugees International, tweeted a 2-minute video of Zugay explaining her desire to find Tracy.
Can you help us #FindTracy?
She welcomed @aydazugay into the US with an unexpected message in 1999. We’d love to help her decade-long search so she can reunite and thank Tracy in person.
— Refugees International (@RefugeesIntl) April 26, 2022
The tearful reunion
That tweet drew the attention of one of Peck’s daughters, and Susan Allen, a tennis coach colleague.
The reason for Tracy’s presence on the flight that fateful day was because she had gotten the opportunity to travel to Paris in 1999 to watch the French Open. Allen, who helped organized that very trip, reckoned a little bit of evidence would be needed to prove, and so contacted another tennis friend who had been on that same flight, and who just so happened to keep in a scrapbook the receipt from the flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis on May 31st, along with a team photo, which was the same date that Zugay recalled.
Then, Allen opened a group chat with Zugay and Tracy Peck, posting the images as proof that at last, Zugay’s 23-year search was over.
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A Zoom call was scheduled with her and her sister, and suddenly on their computer screens appeared the same smiling face, albeit with a few more tears, from 23 years before.
“Hello beautiful ladies!” Peck exclaimed, to which Zugay replied, “It’s been more than 20 years,” now fully-able to communicate in English, when before she could only manage hand signals.
They shared many things, including how they used the $100 to last through the whole summer eating pancake mix.
“You know those huge doors that they have in old places across the world? It felt like that big, heavy door just got shut. And I’m finally able to move forward and thrive… And it just makes me so happy,” Zugay said. “Thank you for reminding me to be strong.”
They hope to meet in person soon, after further video calls led to catching up, the introduction of Vanja’s daughters, and more.
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Peck already had 5 children, but today she always counts the total as 7.
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