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Hello. My name is Jim Fairbrother.

I have lived in Togliatti, and nearby Samara, Russia, for the past 2 years. Some time ago, I noticed an ad in a city magazine which featured a picture of Valeria and a request for sponsors. I didn't call the number listed (read below for the reasons) for several months.

One day, at the office, I remembered about the magazine ad for the tennis sponsor, and I asked my office manager Yulia to call them for me. Yulia reported that the person she spoke to, Dennis, was interested in any type of sponsorship. Anybody, anytime, anywhere. Yulia reported that Dennis said that Valeria's parents (Dennis and Olga) were Russian champions in other sports, and that is why they felt their daughter would be a good candidate for success, and why they were seeking sponsorship. She arranged a meeting and the next Saturday I went to Togliatti to the gym where I met Dennis, Valeria's father.

The gym was in a health-club in the woods outside of town. The health club is called "Nadezhda." You probably already know it is a woman's name (short form "Nadya"). The word also means "hope." As a writer, I was interested in this "project" from another angle. I was thinking to chronicle the life of a Russian tennis star from childhood, and later on, when she hit the big time, it would make a great book (with yours truly as the author). And I would have lots of documentation, interviews, photos, records, etc. to make an interesting biography.

After a few minutes, Andrei (the trainer) and Valeria took a break and I met them, also.

I had to be a hot dog, so I asked Andrei if I borrow his racket, and I faced Valeria. She served six times into the net, then got over her nervousness and fired a perfect serve. It zinged into my waiting racket. The ball bounced off, up in the air. My racket felt like a baseball had impacted. It was quivering. My hand was vibrating like a tuning fork.

I served an easy lob and Valeria slammed it back. I raised the racket for the return. The yellow orb danced in like an impatient SWAT team. The ball dribbled off my racket and left me with a humming lower arm and shuddering racket.

For the next several months, I accompanied Dennis, Olga and Valeria to a few tournaments, interviewed people, took many photos, and learned a lot about the game. They take their tennis seriously around here: there is a spanking new tennis club with 8 indoor and 8 outdoor courts, and the real Davis Cup was for some time on display there. In nearby Samara, there are two new tennis clubs, and even the city has poured money into maintenance of its municipal courts.

It became clear to me that native talent, good genes, and local practice, weren't quite good enough when we went to the tournament in Samara. Valeria easily handled her opponents in the early matches, but then in the semi-finals came up against the eventual winner - L. L's rich parents had sent her to Florida for an entire year of top-flight coaching. And now L. handled everyone else in the tournament with ease. Valeria had to settle for second place.

So now the game goal is to get that top-flight coaching. It is the expert coaching, which supplies that final ingredient, that propels the good player, the talented, gifted player, into the arena of the outstanding, the exceptional.

At this time, my office/company is no more, though it was fun while it lasted. I must relate that I have not been able to recently financially support Valeria. Local training and tournament travel require funding, not to mention possible coaching overseas and/or with top-of-line instructors. So we are looking for others to step in, and become an integral part of the team.

Feel free to call me, or Denis to speak personally and ask questions. Denis doesn't speak English very well, but he will try anyway!

If you are serious and want to come here and meet everybody, I can advise you about the best ways to get visa, which airline and where to fly to, hotels, apartments, local doings, transportation, etc. I have already made every mistake, so I can advise you how not to make them. (For example, expecting that cars will slow down for pedestrians.) And Togliatti is a "small" big city. It has none of the scams and dishonesty you might encounter in Moscow, or other big cities. Togliatti is also the only Russian city I know of where the roads are in reasonably good shape (besides Moscow, which enjoys political patronage similar to Washington, DC - which can boast the finest Metro/Subway in the nation). This may have something to do with Togliatti being Russia's "Motor City" - it is here they manufacture the Russian automobile, the Lada.

There are many people here who love to meet Americans. Americans are rare here, so rare I can hear whispered "Look, foreigner!" when I go to the main market. It has been my sweet experience to be accompanied all day by pretty co-eds from the university just so they could have the experience of, and practice, speaking English with an American. Under the surface, Russians are very curious about and welcoming to foreigners, despite what you may have read in the media. Don't believe anything you see or read in the media about Russia.

About myself, I am early retired from federal government, and my official residence is in Northern Virginia. I have lived in Germany (while in the army), in Florida (where I went to the university and supported myself by playing in rock bands - I play guitar, bass and keyboards) and I was born and raised in upstate Elmira, New York.

I didn't call the listed phone number for several months because 1) I wasn't sure if I was translating the ad correctly - that they actually wanted sponsors, and 2) I don't speak Russian very well.

Now you are wondering how I can spend 2 years in Russia and not speak the language? First of all, Russian is, in my opinion, perhaps the world's hardest language - by comparison, I speak English, German and some Chinese, and of course spotty Spanish. Naturally, this doesn't justify my laziness to actually learn the language of the country where I am residing, and relying on other peoples' English. Don't get me wrong, I can get by in Russian, in most situations - the restaurant, the bus, the hotel, the bookstore, the market, etc. One thing that is difficult to master in a foreign country, where formality, patience and politeness usually take the back seat, is in a phone conversation. Have you ever been irked that someone calls, or your call is transferred to India, and they don't quite speak enough English? That's me, fearful of being hung up on, so I never called.

The next year,I was able to open a small office in Samara, and hired an office manager - Yulia, and a programmer, Andrei, who were mostly responsible for getting my dear baby, my web site, up and running - It is a talking picture dictionary. I have wanted to make this since 1991, even before the internet became the biggest thing since Gutenberg unveiled the printing press.

At the office, remembering the sponsorship request, I asked Yulia to call them for me. (Yulia was fantastic, but she prevented me from learning Russian - her English was so impeccable, so that, at least in the office, I never spoke (and never learned) Russian.)) Yulia talked for a while and reported that the person she spoke to, Denis, was very interested in any type of sponsorship...and that brings us back to the beginning of the story...

If you wish to know more about this opportunity, please, e-mail or call for details. There is not much required. Valeria, her coach and family gladly accept any and all offers of help and assistance for their young prodigy. In exchange, you will have a front-row seat in the exciting world of Russian tennis.

You might be interested in coming to Togliatti to meet with Valeria and her parents, to see her train and participate in competitions. Or even just to come for your own "fact-finding mission." There is no obligation for visitors. Valeria and her family and most other Russians are always happy to greet and meet with foreigners, it is a rare occasion for them to meet visitors. If you decide to come, we will be glad to arrange an invitation for the visa, and provide registration once you arrive. You will have no problems with accomodations. We will provide support from the moment you arrive, including arrangements for staying at an inexpensive or deluxe hotel, or private apartment, transportation from the airport and around the city, and everything else needed to insure a glitchless and wonderful experience for your visit.

Here are the phone numbers (Samara time is 9 hours earlier than EST/EDT):

Jim (English, German, poor Russian): (011)-7-9608-130-355

Denis (Russian, poor English): (011)-7-9272-686-007

You can also send SMS (text message).

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