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Ukraine war has kept ODU tennis star from her family for over two years, yet she wouldn't trade her time in Norfolk for anything

Tatsiana Sasnouskaya is from Minsk, Belarus, which lies between Russia and Ukraine over 5,000 miles away.

NORFOLK, Va. — Two oceans, five planes, and over 5,000 miles separate Tatsiana Sasnouskaya from her family in Minsk, Belarus.

"My flight home is on average 30 hours. I go from Norfolk to either D.C. or New York... then you go to Amsterdam or Portugal and then, it's usually Moscow to Minsk." 

But Tatsiana hasn't made the trip in quite a long time. 

"I haven't been home in the last two years because of what's been going on with Russia and Ukraine," she said. "Belarus demographically is right in the middle." 

Tatsiana is the only athlete in her family. Her parents have never even been to America, yet Tatsiana went willingly when she was 18 to continue her tennis career. 

With two other Monarchs on the team also from Belarus and ODU being ranked 18th in the country at the time, the decision to go to ODU seemed like a no-brainer. But what she didn't expect was having to grow up so fast. 

“You go not outside of your comfort zone, but outside your continent at a relatively young age and you have to figure out how to pay utilities, how to do dishes, how to do your laundry, how to do taxes, how to drive a car, how to go to a grocery store, and everything by yourself,” she explained. "It's very refreshing and it wakes you up very early."

But all of these experiences have formed her identity, one of which includes always being an underdog. 

“I create this pressure in my head that I’m not an underdog, but when I look at the paper, I’m like, 'No, I am.' It kind of gives me this, 'whatever' feeling.”

As a senior, Tatsiana recently helped ODU reach 16th in the country -- the program's highest-ever ranking -- while etching the 19th individual ranking for singles.

“We were always underdogs and everybody kind of knew who is Old Dominion. But nobody ever expects big stuff from us, but everyone knows like, 'Yeah, they kind of can do this.'”

Being the dark horse constantly drives Tatsiana, even in her career choice.

"Cyber security is a field where I feel like I have a good chance at succeeding just because you have to always keep up with all of the developments going on in the IT world. If you were an expert five years ago, you're not anymore." 

From immigrant, to tennis star, to technician: Tatsiana doesn’t take her journey for granted.

"I definitely wouldn't trade any of my experiences. I feel like it's such a blessing to be so independent but at the same time very curious." 

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