Granada-Livermore two-sport standout Supiesi “Sue” Vi will soon be off to play softball at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and her high school memories are now behind her. However, once you hear the story of this delightful, mature, and talented young woman, it will become apparent she has memories of her senior year as a Matador that will never be far from her thoughts.
To use the cliché that Vi has “overcome adversity” is far more than an understatement, but she has, and big time. As a result, Vi is being awarded the inaugural Prep2Prep Preppy for the Most Inspirational Athlete.
Dealing with her mother’s heart transplant
Vi was a softball and basketball player for Granada, and although she was one of the best players on both squads, she’s not a prototypical superstar.
She was, however, a team leader despite playing through both seasons with her mother, Alita Vi, being extremely ill and ending up getting a heart transplant during the second week of the fall semester.
Alita became ill in early 2015, and at first doctors didn’t really know what was wrong.
“Early on they thought it was a lung problem, so she had a lung removed,” Vi told Prep2Prep.
Vi also plays with the Lady Hustle travel softball team, and despite her mother’s worsening condition, she pressed on during the spring and summer even though her mother was unable to be with her.
“She’s a phenomenal girl from a phenomenal family,” said Lady Hustle coach and former Liberty-Brentwood and UCLA star Julie Marshall. “Sue is the first one to show up and the last one to leave. She has incredible work ethic, and of course her story just melts your heart.”
With her mother’s condition worsening, doctors finally found out she had amyloidosis, a rare disease where an abnormal protein called amyloid is produced. These amyloid protein fibers can attach and deposit into organs, tissues, nerves and other places in the body. In Alita’s case, it was her heart.
According to the amyloidosis.org web site, early diagnosis is a problem, as it was in Alita’s case. By the time she was diagnosed, the only solution was a heart transplant.
It sounds like a simple solution, but not really. Getting on a list to receive a heart transplant is very difficult and patients are classified for priority. Alita was in the lowest classification and was on a list that meant a minimum of a three-month wait. Somehow doctors got her moved up, and in September she had the so-far successful surgery.
“The way she got to the top of the list was very rare. The doctors worked hard to move her up. It was almost like a miracle,” Vi said.
Most people couldn’t see it, but Sue was hurting even before her mother’s surgery. Plus, she was in her senior year of high school and playing two sports, including almost year-round softball.
“It hurt a lot to go through with sports. You can’t really talk to teammates about it,” Vi remarked. “It was so hard seeing how tired she was, the medications and how they affected her. She’s the person I talk to the most and it felt like I was a burden.”
The biggest burden wasn’t Sue needing her mom or Alita needing her daughter, but the enormities of costs associated with the situation.
The miracle for the Vi family has not come without a financial strain. Vi’s father, Thomas Vi, who works at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and also coaches boys AAU basketball for the Bay Area Stingers, has medical coverage but it has its limitations.
As a result the family has been more than over-extended financially. They’ve taken out loans and there have been some local fundraisers, including by the Stingers and Livermore Little League, but the impact on the family has been staggering.
“It has been financially ridiculously hard on us,” said Vi, who exudes a maturity well beyond her high school years. “The surgery alone for the heart transplant was wallet breaking – over half a million dollars.”
Family obligations and support
Through it all, Sue had to not only be a student-athlete and team leader, but almost a surrogate mother and father in some ways for her younger brother, Thomas, Jr.
“Even before the surgery my parents were at the hospital all the time. Then, for a long time my dad had to be with my mom and stayed at the hospital. That left me and (Thomas) at home. I had to help him and be there for him and do things like make dinner.”
The community, and on occasion, even teachers pitched in.
“One night Mr. McCafferty made a really good dinner for us.”
Fall travel softball was in full swing and her parents wanted her to continue, but they couldn’t be with her and there really wasn’t money for Sue to travel and play, but she wanted to keep playing.
Up stepped Lady Hustle program director and Amador Valley-Pleasanton coach Teresa Borchard, and Marshall, her coach on the Lady Hustle 18 Gold team.
“The Lady Hustle is like my second family,” Vi said. “I love Julie and Teresa so much. They’re not like real coaches. They were always there and constantly reaching out to me. They even helped with the financial difficulties.”
Others stepped up, including the family of one of her best friends, Jessie Johnston, a Caldwell College (NJ) bound pitcher from Granada and her teammate on Lady Hustle.
“I traveled with Jessie and her family while my mom was sick and my family couldn’t travel. I’m so thankful to them.”
Another Lady Hustle teammate who was a big supporter this past fall during travel ball was Oregon State-committed catcher Melissa Nunes, a rival during high school from cross-town Livermore.
“Sue is a very calm kid with a calm demeanor,” said Borchard, who brought Vi’s story to light. “Despite it all she never showed it on the field, but believe me while her mom was on the waiting list it was a very scary time for all of us.”
Stats and awards on the field and in the classroom
Cal-Hi Sports recently honored Vi as its Most Inspirational Female Athlete for the 2016 basketball season. When they heard about Sue and the fact she was playing travel softball and getting ready for her high school basketball season while her mother was undergoing the transplant surgery, it made her choice for that award as much of a slam dunk as it was for the Preppy.
This past basketball season, the 5-9 Vi was selected Second Team All-East Bay Athletic League after she was second on the 17-11 (8-6 league) Matadors with averages of 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
In a CIF North Coast Section Division I first-round playoff game, Vi had a game-high 19 points in leading Granada past Liberty, 48-46, in overtime. This included her converting two free throws in regulation to tie the game and a game-winning layup with five seconds left.
Vi has been EBAL Honorable Mention for softball the past two seasons. She hit .302 in 2015 and this past season she hit .264 despite the adversity, but with Alita able to come to a few games, including the season finale with Livermore, where Prep2Prep was there and met her family.
In the classroom, Vi was still able to maintain a 3.4 GPA and math was her favorite subject.
Travel ball this summer
Before Sue heads to Canisius in the fall she will make the summer travel ball circuit one last time with her Lady Hustle second family.
“Sue is just so fun and sweet to be around. Everyone loves her. You can feel the positive energy and strength in her. She’s someone you know you can count on. She gets her hacks and her at-bats are exciting because she always gives it everything she has. We get strength from her at Lady Hustle,” said Borchard, who is currently in the process of trying to raise money to help Vi with travel expenses this summer.
She’ll call her mother from college
It’s difficult to see her face through the oxygen mask, but it’s hard to hide the excitement and pride in Alita’s eyes when Sue signed her letter of intent to Canisius not that long after her mother came out of the hospital after surgery.
Alita still has to get occasional biopsies and chemotherapy, and the new heart has to grow in, but she’s doing much better and is getting around almost normally. That’s good news because Sue won’t be around to help once she heads for upstate New York.
“Her biggest worry is I won’t call once I get to college, but all I can tell her is not to be worried,” Vi said. “I’m going off to college to get an education and play softball and keep grinding it out to make her proud and me proud of myself.”
It should come as no surprise that Sue has her future planned and her goals are pretty lofty.
“My dream job is to be an FBI agent, so I’m double majoring in pre-law and criminal justice.”
Telling her story and advice for other athletes going through adversity
“Honestly, I feel like I never expected or tried to get my story out there, but now that it has gotten out I’m in awe and honored. I hope it inspires other student-athletes to stay strong and keep grinding.
Vi also had some final advice to others like her that play sports and are facing hardship and suffering.
“Having sports gives you a healthy outlet to let it out and stay strong. Don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dreams. Work hard so it’s not an additional burden on the family, and remember, God doesn’t put you though anything you can’t overcome.”
Alita may be concerned about losing her baby, and who wouldn’t be after what she has gone through, but it certainly doesn’t seem like she has to worry about Sue calling home from college.
For all her accomplishments on the field and the hardwood, and more importantly, her ability to serve as a role model in life while battling personal adversity, we congratulate Sue Vi for earning the title as the Prep2Prep Most Inspirational Athlete for the 2015-2016 school year.