Tutunjians Turn AYF Olympics into Family Affair

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—All said and done, no family in these AYF Olympic Games could possibly have done more than the Tutunjians.

Bob and Shooshan Tutunjian with their three highly competitive AYF children, Stephen, Lynne, and Christine
Bob and Shooshan Tutunjian with their three highly competitive AYF children, Stephen, Lynne, and Christine

They brought more than their share of unadulterated pride to Providence over Labor Day Weekend, leaving an indelible mark in their wake.

Bob (father) pulled out all the stops to coach the “Varantians” to yet another championship with 204 points—56 better than runner-up Boston, which was expected to mount a serious challenge. Through prudent recruitment and hands-on coaching, the Mean Green Machine chewed up the competition with a blend of experienced athletes and newcomers.

Shooshan (mother) earned her place in royal history by being crowned an Olympic Queen, joining Maro Kachadourian for the honor. According to valid sources, Shooshan becomes the only non-Varantian athlete to receive such a tribute in Providence. Shoo was not part of the Green Machine until her children came along.

A great athlete and proud alumnae, Shooshan amassed 105.5 points over a star-studded career for Boston as a Kassabian, ranking her 7th now on the all-time list, which was just topped by daughter Lynne.

No generation gap here. Shooshan held her 800 record at the same time her children owned 2 records apiece. Shoo held marks in the shotput, javelin, 200, and 800, the latter stretching more than 30 years before being eclipsed recently.

She was probably the most diversified AYF athlete in these games, having placed first or second in 12 different events, including every individual track and field competition except the high jump. Also add swimming to the mix.

Displaying a ton of mettle, Lynne turned in an indelible performance in her grand finale, winning three gold medals for Providence, breaking a swim record, and surpassing Jill Tosoian Dolik and Nancy Gavoor as history’s all-time leading scorer.

The mark came in the 25-meter freestyle, which she set 11 years ago while competing for Worcester, adding victories in the 25-meter butterfly and 50-meter freestyle.

The triple victory boosted her total to 153 points, overtaking the Detroit duo who shared the lead with 144 points apiece. She has competed 11 times since 2004, only missing the 2005 games in Washington, D.C.

Over that time, Lynne has been high scorer 7 times and owns records in both the 25 freestyle and 50 breast stroke. All of her points have come from swimming, except once in 2006 when she ruled the 200 meter. In all, she has amassed 27 golds and 6 silvers in what has truly been a remarkable career.

Lynne has an M.S. in accounting from Bentley University and works as a certified public accountant for Arrowstreet Capital, a Boston-based investment firm.

While at Bentley, she competed for the track and swim teams. In her senior year (2009), she placed in the top six in all three butterfly events at the New England Swimming & Diving Championships. Her times from that meet are still ranked in the Bentley All-Time Top 15 performances.

“It’s hard to believe I joined the AYF 18 years ago,” Lynne recalled. “This achievement would not have been possible without the love and support from my parent and family. I am thankful my parents got my sister, brother, and I involved in the AYF at such a young age—all the hours they dedicated to driving us to sporting events and practices. They never missed any of our swim meets, soccer games, or track meets. They were always the biggest fans. Because of them, I wanted to be in the best possible shape for my final year so I started practicing much earlier than in previous years.”

Lynne went on to say how fortunate she was that the AYF allowed her to build lifelong friendships, specifically with what she calls her “Providence family.”

One of her fondest memories was back in 2009 when Providence last hosted the Olympics. Lynne had broken the 50 breast stroke record. Although she was overwhelmed with joy, the fact her grandparents (Alice and Bob) were on hand to witness the event was an added inducement.

“All my grandparents loved nothing more than seeing the three of us do the things we loved,” she added. “When I finished my last race this September, I could hear the words of my Grandpa (Aram) and Grandma (Arpine) saying ‘Abris hokis’ (Well done, my dear) and I knew that they would be proud.”

Her brother Stephen was not to be denied his swan song, taking 3 events including another record jump, and culminating his star-studded career with 130 points, good enough for 6th place on the scoring parade.

The mark came in the triple jump at 49’2”, eclipsing his own standard of 48’4.5” established in 2012. Two other gold medals came in the long jump, which he already holds, and the high jump.

The triple jump distance was only two inches shorter than the qualifying mark for the NCAA Championships he posted as a sophomore at Lehigh University. Travel and training commitments for a new job in July forced Stephen to cut back on his athletic time but apparently showed no rust here in Providence, three years after graduation. Even his Lehigh coach was amazed at Stephen’s productivity at these games upon being told.

The jump (49’2”) was only 2 inches less than his first NCAA Championship qualifying mark in 2010. And all this after being three years removed from college jumping.

What’s even more compelling is his earlier resume. Since 2007, Stephen has competed nine times and taken the high-scoring laurels on seven of those occasions.

The swift-kicking Varantian has been peerless in his jumps—never losing, and securing 25 gold medals to go with a silver he earned his first year as a high-jumper and a bronze in the 400 m. The LJ record (22’1”) broke a 52-year-old standard held by Leo Derderian, who was there by his side encouraging the jumper to accomplish the feat.

Stephen wound up earning a materials engineering degree from Lehigh, adding a master’s in bio-engineering from Tufts. He’s now working as a sales support specialist for Brainlab, a medical technology company.

While at Lehigh, he was captain and a two-time MVP in track. He qualified for Division 1 NCAA Championships twice in the triple jump where he holds the Lehigh record at 50’41/2”. Stephen also recorded a personal best of 24’1/4” in the long jump. He was named Outstanding Field Athlete at the Patriot League twice and was All-Patriot League six times. Add to that All-East three times at the IC4A Championships, which led to a Distinguished Achievement Award from Lehigh before graduation.

Christine Tutunjian has mounted her moments of glory and set the tone for the other two. She was a high scorer twice (with Lynne), specializing in the distances, and finished with 54 points. While at Worcester Academy, she captained both the cross-country and track teams when a back injury curtailed her career as a senior.

With a marketing degree from Bentley, she is a campaign manager for Accenture, a multi-national consulting and technology company. Christine is married to Jordan Minges and resides in Sarasota, Fla.

“You can credit my parents for getting us involved in the AYF,” said Stephen. “Without them, none of this would have been possible. They set the foundation for the three of us to strive for excellence back when they used to compete. I remember when Christine used to come back from Olympics with her high scorers trophy before I was old enough to compete. It pushed me to follow in her footsteps and strive to break records.”

Stephen looked at his multi-feats, then added, “Records will eventually be broken, but the legacy my family has left behind will be remembered far longer than my individual achievements.”

As a family, the Tutunjians have mustered a total of 452.5 points—the most of any family in the AYF annals. Add just the three children with their mother and you’ll come up 10 points shy. That would be Bob’s contribution, though his prominent years as a coach might atone for any shortcomings as an athlete.

The Aprahamians amassed 401 points if you include the original siblings along with Gary’s children: Lucille (77), John (79), Eddie (10), Gary (66), Tamar (94), Talin (65), and Nairi (10).

The Almasians pooled their talent to record 344 points with their mother Lucy (81) and Sosi (14), Joe (111), and Ani (138). Joe’s son Armen earned two bronze medals this year in his debut.

The Gavoors have 316, led by Nancy’s 144 points, which shared the pinnacle with Jill Tosoian Dolik before Lynne intervened this year. Patriarch Aram “Sonny” Gavoor’s contributions to the Olympics over the decades manifested itself in more ways than points would ever allow.

In retrospect, families have long symbolized the Olympic tradition and the Tutunjians have taken their hallowed place with conviction and supreme merit. Perhaps other postscripts will be added when grandchildren come along.

“It’s very emotional for Shooshan and myself to see both children end their careers on such a high note in Providence, knowing we’ll never watch them compete again,” said Bob Tutunjian. “Twenty years of being there at their swim meets, track, soccer matches, and basketball games has come to an end. But time marches on for everyone and we’re left with so many great memories.”

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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