Finding Tracy: How a CNN story led to a long-awaited reunion

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(CNN) – Tracy Pack was on business Saturday when she received a series of texts and calls that shocked her – first from her tennis coach, then from her best friend.

“You have seen CNN storyBoth told him. “That must be you.”

Initially, Peck brushed it aside. She was driving and had no idea what they were talking about. Then she pulled and opened the link they sent.

A picture of a letter with her signature appears on the pack’s iPhone screen. As soon as she saw him, she says, memories of a plane ride from 23 years ago quickly came back.

She remembered sitting next to two sisters fleeing the former Yugoslavia. She remembered how young and frightened the refugees looked, how they reminded her of her own daughters and how heartbreaking their experience of fleeing the war was and unlike what she had ever dealt with.

She remembers reaching into her purse before they got off the flight, pulling out an envelope, writing them a note and putting her hanging earrings and a $ 100 bill inside.

Peck didn’t know how meaningful that envelope would be for both girls. And until she read the CNN story on Saturday, Peck says she had no idea a sister, Aida Zuge, had been looking for her for almost a decade.

Tracy Pack, left, had no idea that Aida Zude, on the right, had been looking for her for almost a decade.

Tracy Pack, left, had no idea that Aida Zude, on the right, had been looking for her for almost a decade.

Courtesy Tracy Pack and Aida Zude

Tears welled up in the face of the 70-year-old massage therapist as she read the sisters’ description of how the gift changed their lives. For years, Peck, who lives in suburban Minneapolis, says she has worked to teach her children to be compassionate, telling them you never know how your actions can affect others. She never imagined she would experience such a wonderful example of how important a work of kindness can be.

She wasn’t sure how to reach the sisters, but she knew she needed to try.

Friends and family helped with the whirlwind of tweets, emails and texts, and less than a day later, Peck and the sisters reunited on an emotional zoom call.

She told him that they had changed forever after hearing this latest chapter in their story.

“It warms my heart more than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said.

This childhood photo of Aida Zuge and her sister Vanja was taken after they came to the United States.  Tracy Peck says she remembers meeting him on a flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

This childhood photo of Aida Zuge and her sister Vanja was taken after they came to the United States. Tracy Peck says she remembers meeting him on a flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

Courtesy Ayda Zugay

How they met each other

Aida Zuge couldn’t believe her eyes. There, in the middle of her computer screen, was Tracy, smiling – the woman she had been trying to find for so long with just an envelope, first name and her own memories to help her.

Zuge remembers the woman sitting next to him and his sister talking about playing tennis racket in Paris. And she knew she would never forget the wonderful act of generosity that welcomed her and her sister into the United States. She was so excited that so many more now knew the story – and especially thrilled to see so many people tweeting that they wanted to be more like Tracy.

This 1999 photo shows Tracy Pack (dressed in red) on a group trip with other Minnesota women to play tennis and watch the French Open.

This 1999 photo shows Tracy Pack (dressed in red) on a group trip with other Minnesota women to play tennis and watch the French Open.

Courtesy DN Sand Johnson

The CNN story quickly circulated online, reaching more than 2 million readers. After it was published, Zuge says she was surprised to receive messages of support from as far away as Angola, Brazil and India. On social media, many said they were inspired by Tracy’s generosity and offered suggestions on new ways to find her.

What about trying to get a passenger manifesto from US Customs and Border Protection? Or a DNA sample from an envelope? Or U.S.

Zuge was inspired to continue his search. But in the end, she didn’t have to turn to the ideas sent by amateur sluts on social media to find Tracy. Instead, two of Tracy’s closest contacts approached her.

Tracy’s tennis coach helped solve the riddle together

Zuge first saw a tweet from one of Peck’s daughters, warning her of a handwriting match. Then a tennis coach arrived.

That coach, Susan L., also recognized Peck’s signature. But more than that, the story was meaningful.

Asked by CNN to give an example of her signature, Tracy Peck rewrote this version of the 1999 note.  Peck, 70, says her signature is so unique that it's a joke she runs with her friends - not to mention she's known for using emojis and always signing her name from the heart.

Asked by CNN to give an example of her signature, Tracy Peck rewrote this version of the 1999 note. Peck, 70, says her signature is so unique that it’s a joke she runs with her friends – not to mention she’s known for using emojis and always signing her name from the heart.

Courtesy Tracy Pack

“Knowing Tracy,” she told CNN, “Tracy will do the same.” Allen says he has known Peck for years as a generous man who never thinks twice about helping others.

But Allen expected more evidence to show that Zuge and Peck were on the same plane. Allen approached his fellow coach, DN Sand Johnson. Together, they scored their records to help.

In May 1999, his company Love / To Travel gave Minnesota women the opportunity to travel internationally to play tennis and watch tournaments. She leads a group of 18 women, including Peck – who went to Paris to watch the French Open that month.

Jones kept a scrapbook documenting the trip. One page featured a photo of the team. Others include a travel agency receipt with the group’s travel program. The second leg of their return journey was a flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis on May 31, 1999 – the same date and route Zuge remembered to fly.

The receipt, shared by one of Tracy Pack's tennis coaches, shows the group's journey to 1999.  They were on a May 31 flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

The receipt, shared by one of Tracy Pack’s tennis coaches, shows the group’s journey to 1999. They were on a May 31 flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

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Courtesy DN Sand Johnson

L started the group text by keeping in touch with Peck and Zuge. He then shared the pics.

“The pictures are so real to look at!” Zuge wrote. “This is so beautiful!”

Alan was thrilled. “I am taking a deep breath of tennis and I am very excited,” she wrote.

Zuge, who lives in Boston, suggested a zoom reunion the next day.

“So excited that I can’t even type!” She told the group.

She was increasingly convinced that she would find the mysterious woman she was looking for, but she still did not know what to expect.

Before the call, she went to a park to calm her nerves. She realized that what she had been wanting for years was finally within reach.

They shared an emotional reunion on Zoom

Zuge was even more relieved to hear Peck’s voice.

“Hello beautiful ladies!” Pack cried with joy as soon as the zoom call started. Zuge noted that she was wearing dangling earrings, as she was on the day she was found on the plane.

“It’s been over 20 years,” Zuge said, grabbing the envelope.

A page from Johnson's scrapbook shows receipts and photos of the tennis tour group as they prepare to leave Minneapolis in May 1999.

A page from Johnson’s scrapbook shows receipts and photos of the tennis tour group as they prepare to leave Minneapolis in May 1999.

Courtesy DN Sand Johnson

Peck told the sisters how vividly she remembered how she felt when she met him.

“It touched my heart so much that I felt I had to help you somehow,” she said.

Zuge’s sister, Vanja Contino, came in from her Connecticut home.

“Your generosity is still in me,” she said, “because I’ve been paying it since then.”

Zuge told Peck she had wanted to share with the author of the note for years – how grateful she was, Why the gift meant so much, she now knows how rare such welcome messages are, how they used the money to eat pancake mix and Coca Cola all summer long.

She admitted that at first she was nervous about the zoom, then realized that suddenly she was feeling strong.

“You know those huge doors that they have in old places all over the world? It felt like those big, heavy doors had just closed. And I was finally able to move on and open … and that made me very Makes you happy, “said Zuge. “Thank you for reminding me to be strong.”

Peck said he was the one who was grateful. At a time when there is so much sorrow and suffering in the world, she hopes that others will take longer to give back.

On a 1999 trip to watch the French Open, Tracy Pack (right) and her teammates met tennis star Monica Seles.

On a 1999 trip to watch the French Open, Tracy Pack (right) and her teammates met tennis star Monica Seles.

Courtesy DN Sand Johnson

“I just want to encourage everyone in the world to be kind. What’s the harm in that? Unless it helps everyone. Smile, make eye contact, help anyone in trouble or danger. And I don’t know if anyone Why not. Don’t do that, “she said. “So, I’m so thankful I found you girls, that you found me.”

“Yeah, we did,” Zuge laughed. It still felt strange to say it out loud.

“You did it after so long,” Peck said. “And we have a lot to do.”

They hope to meet face to face one day

On Sunday, the arrests began. Contino introduced Peck to his daughters. Peck introduces one of his daughters and his two grandchildren.

Together, Peck and the sisters were amazed by all the factors that sat in the same row that day, how many people worked together to share the story and how social media helped them reconnect so quickly over the weekend.

Peck, shown here with members of her tennis tour group near the Eiffel Tower, says she is no longer sure who was sitting in the row closest to her on the return flight to Minneapolis.  Zugen remembered another man named Tracy, and helped someone knit.  Track was the only one in the pack group, but the coach says there were at least two other netters.  Zugen hopes that she too will one day get a chance to talk to him.

Peck, shown here with members of her tennis tour group near the Eiffel Tower, says she is no longer sure who was sitting in the row closest to her on the return flight to Minneapolis. Zugen remembered another man named Tracy, and helped someone knit. Tracy was the only one in the pack group, but the coach says there were at least two other netters. Zugen hopes that she too will one day get a chance to talk to him.

Courtesy Tracy Pack

Crossing the path that day, and again finally after 23 years, it felt like that.

They talked about the possibility of meeting face to face one day. Maybe in the future they might even spend Memorial Day weekend together, when Zuge and Contino mark the anniversary of their arrival in the United States.

Peck promised the sisters that whenever they visited, he would make them the best pancakes they had.

Recent photos show sisters Vanja Contino and Aida Zuge. "You are both wonderful young women," Tracy Peck told them at her recent Zoom Reunion. "I am so thankful that I was sitting next to you on that plane ... and proud of both of you for what you have become and how your life has turned out here."

Recent photos show sisters Vanja Contino and Aida Zuge. “You’re both remarkably young women,” Tracy Peck told him at her recent Zoom Reunion. “I am so thankful that I was sitting next to you on that plane … and proud of both of you for what you have become and how your life has turned out here.”

Courtesy Ayda Zugay

Peck already had five children – three daughters and two stepchildren. She thinks she has two more now.

They may have been strangers when Peck wrote that note on the plane 23 years ago. But now, says Pack, they are family.

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