It’s easy to spot someone with a passion. The way they talk. The way they look when they’re in their element. The things they do when they don’t think anyone else is watching.
Friends and family of Larisa Vaynberg don’t have to convince you that her passion fit that mold. When talking about her, their voice says it all.
“Larisa probably taught 10,000 people how to play tennis, or play tennis better,” said Gwen Guidace, a close friend who worked with Vaynberg for 15 years at the Princeton Tennis Program. “But more than that, she was just a solid person who cared about so much about what she did and the people she was with. Everyone who knew her could see that.”
Vaynberg passed away on June 19, 2013, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 58. Vaynberg was known around Princeton as one of the area’s most successful and well-liked tennis teachers. In a tennis-loving community, it was nearly impossible not to hear her name.
After Vaynberg’s death, Guidice received dozens upon dozens of emails and notes from people in the community who came into contact with her over the years. The messages were from parents and former students, and mentioned positive memories and experiences people had with Vaynberg. Larisa’s son, Eugene, couldn’t believe the outreach.
“My mom was tough and demanding, yet she was amazing in how she balanced that and found a way to teach in a positive way and make people better,” he said. “Seeing the support come in was overwhelming. I don’t think I realized the degree of impact she had on people. She was so personally modest, I don’t think she would have admitted it.”
Those who know her well say Vaynberg was born to be a tennis teacher. She was still teaching lessons the week before her death. Vaynberg was a star player as a junior, earning the No. 1 ranking in the Ukraine for both singles and doubles. She evolved into the No. 4 player in the Ukraine and was top-50 in Russia before moving to the United States. In her role with the Princeton Tennis Program she organized thousands of clinics, seasonal camps, leagues and tournaments. She also volunteered at annual community outreach programs and fundraisers, and was certified as a teacher by the USPTA, and the USTA in Sport Science.
Vaynberg was all about tennis, and shared that with her family. “I miss everything, but some of the things I miss most come from thinking about tennis,” said Vaynberg’s daughter, Victoria.
“Watching the US Open was strange for me this year. That was something I would usually do with my mom. I wanted to pick up the phone and talk about Federer, or see what was going on in Princeton. I’ll always miss that.” Victoria, who now works in New York, said she picked up plenty of her mother’s traits, and notices them often.
“She always had a good ear and was a great listener,” she said. “She was tough, but kind and honest, and I think that’s what my boss would say about me, too.”
That combo of toughness, kindness and honesty will continue to spark memories in those who knew Larisa best. Guidice, who saw her nearly every day for a decade and a half, said she still carries memories of Vaynberg onto the court.
“I can hear her making corrections,” she said with a smile. “I’ll hit a ball, and I just picture her correcting me – showing me what I was doing, and what I wanted to be doing. Her awareness of each point was amazing, and she knew how to reach someone . I still carry her around with me.”
This article appeared in the 2013-2014 Winter Issue of NetPLAY Magazine. To read more articles from NetPLAY, click here.