It's hard for me to tell you anything new about Tierra Rogers, because so many people have told her story, with more eloquence (and press access!) than me. My first memory of Tierra was reading ESPN's E-Ticket story ‘Honor Thy Father,' an amazingly brilliant portrait of an athlete and a community, and how we try to deal with tragedy and loss. At the time, I had just been brought on here at CGB to write about women's basketball, and I remember feeling intimidated writing anything about somebody with that kind of background.
But mostly, I felt excited. Four years of watching Lady Iverson wow on the basketball court.
Of course, that never happened. Sometimes, I wonder how differently Cal's on-court story might have changed if Tierra didn't have Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia. As many of the stories written about her journey will remind you, Tierra very well might have been the best player in Cal's seven player recruiting class that year. She also might have been the most important. Cal never really found an ideal replacement for her as a starting wing until Afure Jemerigbe emerged over the last two years.
Maybe, if Tierra plays her freshman year, Cal makes the NCAA tournament rather than the NIT. Maybe the 2010-11 season goes very differently. I have no clue. It's a weird butterfly theory alternate universe. What ultimately matters is that Tierra didn't let another challenge stop her from making the best of her circumstances.
It would be obviously insensitive to say that her condition is a good thing, but if her participation in trial medical research bears fruit, she may leave behind a legacy far greater than points and rebounds and final fours. It didn't receive much attention, but Tierra was awarded "most inspirational student athlete" by her peers, which speaks volumes.
To best remember her, I'd recommend that you go (hopefully re)read Viet Nguyen's Bear Insider interview:
But when you're not here [at Haas], and when you're alone, and you're having them days, you feel . . . I mean, there were times when I just didn't want to live anymore. You know, I used to cut myself. IN the heat of the moment, feeling lonely, really really depressed, in my room by myself . . . And it wasn't that I couldn't play anymore. It was just that so much had happened in those past two year . . . I wasn't able to grieve for my father that first year because I had basketball to balance everything out and to help me cope. And then, a year later that, I had to deal with not playing anymore, not having something to cope with and use as a way for me to get by. So I mean it was just a lot of things built up, and it was a lot of lonely nights and a lot of lonely days. And behind the scenes, you feel out of it. You don't feel like you belong. You don't feel worthy. You've lost your identity, and it was just the worst feeling to have, when you don't feel that you have control over your life, where everything has been taken away from you. Just a lot of lonely days and nights, but the support here at Cal has definitely helped me get through.
I, like most people, have seen how depression can negatively impact lives. And again I can say from experience that it takes a tremendous amount of courage to talk so openly about it. Later on in the interview, she talks about what she did to get herself help, to cope with her feelings, and to me that is just as brave and just as important as taking part in clinical testing for her heart condition.
For somebody who never got to step onto the court, she's pretty damned accomplished.