Marko Tomic: A father passed but legacy living on through BG’s Danijela Tomic

Marko Tomic: A father passed but legacy living on through BGs Danijela Tomic

No matter where people go or what career they pursue, the way we all live our lives is a testament to the way we were raised.

That sentiment holds true for Bowling Green volleyball head coach Danijela Tomic.

“I believe our values are installed from our parents,” she said.

For Danijela, the values she inherited from her upbringing have been passed down to the people she has worked with ever since she began her head coaching career at Florida International University in 2005.

But during the week of Nov. 10 this year, the week of the senior weekend series against Buffalo for the Falcons, Tomic learned of news that although seemingly was just a matter of time, was still crushing.

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

Danijela’s dad, Marko Tomic, passed away during that week from complications of pneumonia and organ failure at the age of 83.

His death ended a nearly 18-year chapter of adversity for Marko. In 2005, while visiting Danijela’s brother Boris in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, along with Danijela’s mother Vjekoslava, Marko suffered a stroke in the left side of his brain that left him paralyzed on the right side of his body, as well as taking away his ability to speak.

Danijela remembers that day, including the process to enter Canada at that time to visit her family during the emergency (especially since she didn’t have the proper paperwork to enter the country), as a wild time.

Marko and Danijela (Danijela Tomic)

“I actually flew from Miami,” said Danijela. “But the issue was you needed a visa to go to Canada at that time. So one of my assistants (at FIU), her sister worked for Delta Airlines, and she said, let’s try this – I’ll meet you in Buffalo, and I’ll rent a car and we’ll drive. At that time, you could cross the border with a driver’s license.  I flew to Buffalo, got in the car, and they (border patrol) didn’t ask me for a passport.”

Sounds like a journey full of unexpected outcomes, nearly parallel to the future of the Tomic household.

Marko, though, was not in good shape, so Vjekoslava took over as the 24/7 caregiver for him, abruptly ending her career as a teacher.

“2005 this happened, so she was only 55 when she retired; I mean, that’s like four years older than me,” said Danijela with a laugh. “When this happened. we were calculating actually my sisters and I, and for one quarter of her life, she took care of my dad.”

18 years of sacrifice and care, all for the love of a husband, father, and grandfather to many.

Danijela and her siblings always knew and still know that, making the eventual end slightly easier to process.

“We knew that things were not going to get better,” said Danijela. “The end was pretty quick (only two days), and my sister (Marcela) called me who lives in Bosnia and told me that he probably won’t make it this time, so I was prepared a little bit.”

But even with having a bit of preparation for the heartbreak, nothing ever prepared Danijela for the actual moment.

“No matter how old we are, no matter what the circumstances are, we are never fully prepared to lose a parent,” said Danijela.

MARKO: A MAN OF MANY INTERESTS

The time since Marko’s passing has given Danijela the chance to process what Marko truly was.

What was he? A man of many interests and talents.

“He could fix anything,” said Danijela. “He knew laws of physics and mechanics and everything with four years of education. He was street smart, had people skills, all the stuff.”

Marko only had four years of education in his life and never even finished high school.

Regardless, Marko still could pull people into him, something he did the non-traditional way.

Danijela with her parents (Danijela Tomic)

“It was interesting, my family. My mom is a teacher, and he was a truck driver,” said Danijela. “But our so-called circle of friends came from doctors, professors, directors, priests; very eclectic circle of friends. That was interesting. He always had houses full, my mom is a great cook, and my dad just, I don’t know, people were drawn to him.”

Back during Marko’s younger days, being a truck driver was not unusual, but rather how much he did it.

“My dad only worked twice for a short period of time for somebody else,” said Danijela. “He was I would call it an entrepreneur now, but had a truck for delivery.”

Before that, Marko worked all the time, ranging from transporting coal from mines to a power plant to managing the projector at a cinema.

So with his broad spectrum of work, along with his unique educational process, Marko developed into a man who was all about learning new things and getting hands-on experiences with new technology.

Safe to say that intrigue still lives on today.

“I’m a techie. I like gadgets, new technology,” said Danijela. “That’s definitely from my dad. We had probably the first color TV in our village. We even had a dishwasher, stereos, and the first computer. He loved technology. I got that from him for sure.”

SUDDENLY GOING HOME

Coming off a series against Akron, a series that BGSU had swept the Zips to increase their chances of reaching the Mid-American Conference Tournament at that time, Bowling Green was gearing up for their normal process of preparing for Buffalo.

But for Tomic, life threw her a curveball-  a curveball that was unavoidable even during the peak of the season.

And yet, Vjekoslava made clear that even with the heavy heart from afar, guilt would not be cast down on her children for potentially missing the future.

“I’ve been on my own since I was 16, that’s why I try to go, and I’ve done so, home every year,” said Danijela. “So even when this happened, my mom said ‘You know all of you came and saw your dad when he was alive, and I understand if you cannot come for the funeral.’ ‘It was more important for him to see you all while he was alive than coming to the funeral.’ ”

Nonetheless, Danijela went home to be with her family, and looking back, the process of getting home could not have been better or even sweeter.

“My sister (Antonela) is in Chattanooga, so actually three of us (were on the flight home),” said Danijela. “My sister also brought her son and we met in Frankfurt on the 10th Saturday. I flew on Friday, and then we were on the same flight from Frankfurt to Sarajevo, and we arrived, four of us. My sister, who lives in Bosnia, picked us up on Sunday.”

It was reassuring that things were going to be okay for Danijela after being able to be together on the journey home.

But Danijela’s family in Bowling Green was also there for her.

“I met with a recruit and the family before my flight,” said Danijela. “My best friend flew in from Florida, and this happened while she was on a flight actually when I found out. She was supposed to stay for a week, and that, that was a quick visit. But I did the recruiting part, and the whole team came to Juniper. That was very special for me.”

HAVING FAITH IN STAFF

As every caring heart would understand, the concern for the Tomic family was at the forefront of every mind within the locker room.

At the same time, the team still had to find a way to play at their very best on the court.

Why?

At that time, the Falcons were still trying to get into the MAC Tournament, seemingly in a two-horse race for the six seed with the Central Michigan Chippewas.

So how did the team find the resiliency and strength to focus and play as well as they had done during that stretch (had won seven of eight heading into Buffalo)?

Enter Alex DelPiombo, associate head coach, who took over in the role of interim head coach during Danijela’s absence.

Pullquote Photo

“We’ve always operated as a program that empowers each other in our roles. When it was time for her (Danijela) to put her family first, I felt thoroughly prepared and ready. We continued our day to day and matches as close to normal as we could because of the structure she’s been so crucial in creating. It’s our program. It’s about we. The rest was a testament to our players preparing for those matches against Buffalo and Miami.”

— Alex DelPiombo

With the feeling of being prepared, the confidence instilled within DelPiombo was translated to the play on the floor for the Falcons, as they ended up sweeping the series against the Bulls, as well as locking up their spot in the MAC Tournament.

How does this all get done? Toughness and togetherness.

“If all of us go crazy (get ejected) and there are no coaches on the bench, you don’t need us,” said Danijela. “All of you as a team; that is how we train. You can do this without us coaches.”

The bond that the players and coaches had for each other radiated throughout those 48 hours; a team unfazed by a moment of emotion, unfazed by adversity, and unfazed by expected success.

“Everybody who knows how we operate, how our staff operates, and, and the quality of people that we have,” said Danijela. “Alex, Ali (Alison Cooke) and Sean (Drexl); there was no question that the team is gonna be in great hands.”

LOVE SHOWN THROUGH VALUES INHERITED

Returning from the funeral, Danijela had to find a way to regain her composure and coach her team through their earned bid in the MAC Tournament.

Fair to say that was not an easy assignment.

But Danijela utilized her inherited values of stoicism, selflessness, and pure love to keep her going strong through her team’s most crucial stretch of play.

Where did she get that?

Marko.

“I get it from him,” said Danijela. “It’s not just my family. I shared this with the team when we talk – love is one of our core values. How I see it having talked about it, it’s a not a noun, it’s a verb.”

Danijela Tomic coaching in-game (Drake Harlett)

Danijela shows her love to her players not exactly through literal sayings all the time, but rather through her actions and motivation to help them become better people, not just players.

Safe to assume there are no arguments from anyone around her.

“Danijela is a lifelong learner,” said DelPiombo. “She uses her own experiences and lessons through others as an opportunity to grow. We can’t ask our players to get better every day and we don’t. Danijela is constantly looking for ways to develop as a coach and person. That is a part of who she is, and we all benefit from that example. When life is hard, she leans into growth.”

That growth mindset did not happen overnight, but rather over time, growing up in a tiny little village engrained into the society of patriarchy.

But Danijela’s parents? They were different.

And she knew it.

“I think love is shown when you let other people be them and pursue their dreams,” said Danijela. “My parents did that, so to me, that’s selfless love. It’s not keeping you close, and it was not easy at that time in a very patriarchal society and a culture that I come from and being a girl playing sports. It could be very easy to say no, and my parents let me do it. And my dad did that.”

“You know back home, we kind of make fun of American culture, the movies and everything, of how much you say, ‘I love you,’ ” said Danijela. “We don’t do that. My parents didn’t tell me every day I love you, but I knew every day how deeply they did.”

How so?

“It was shown every day.”

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn).

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  • M

    Marcia MandlyDec 13, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    Excellent article Steve. I love learning more deeply about the coach my daughter played for for 4 years. Thanks to you both for sharing

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  • T

    Tom NoeDec 12, 2023 at 10:03 pm

    Wonderful story about a great man and his family.

    Reply