BearShare: Tierra Rogers

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By Viet Nguyen, Staff Writer
Posted Nov 21, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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How do you measure someone’s strength? Her endurance?

For an athlete, is it how much weight she’s able to lift? Or how many laps she’s able to run?

What about mental and emotional fortitude? Is it in forcing a game-saving turnover or hitting the game-winning jumper?

For Cal’s Tierra Rogers, those used to be the metrics of her life.


The tragedies of Rogers’s life are well-known at this point. In 2008, Rogers was one of the top high school basketball players in the country. But in the space of 20 months, her world turned upside down.

 

First, in January 2008, her father Terray was shot to death. It occurred in the parking lot of San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Prep, during halftime of one of Tierra’s game. Terray was Tierra’s biggest cheerleader.

 

Tierra sought refuge in basketball to help her cope. She even won a state championship along the way. In September 2009, before the start of her freshman season, she collapsed after a work-out and was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD), a heart condition that required a defibrillator. Her college basketball career ended before it began.

 

Cal honored her scholarship, and Tierra Rogers has remained a member of the Golden Bear women’s basketball team. Now starting her senior season, Rogers recently sat down with the Bear Insider to discuss her journey over the last few years. In the process, she candidly shares her struggles and perhaps provides us a different way, a new standard to measure strength and endurance.

 

While her name will not be found in any Cal stat sheets or record books, Tierra Rogers nevertheless will have left her mark on the Golden Bear program.

 

  

Bear Insider: Hi Tierra. I’m so excited to be able to finally sit down and check in with you about how things are going. Let’s start with some great news. I heard that you’re participating a clinical trial for a treatment for ARVD. Tell me how that came about.

 

Tierra Rogers: I get a yearly check-up; every year I go to UCSF and they check my defibrillator and my doctor, Dr. Scheinman, he told me about this medicine that they did on mice that they think might be successful for humans. So they picked two candidates, me and this other guy, to try and take the medicine and see if it works. I’m taking three medications a day, to see if my ventricle gets smaller. If it works, then, in the next four or five years, the people who have ARVD, they will be able to have medicine, they will be able to play their sport or not to have to get a defibrillator.  So it’s pretty awesome.

 

How did you get selected as a candidate?


Like I said, every year I get a check up, and they did an EKG on my heart, and my heart got bigger. My ventricle also got bigger over the last four years, and they were like, “This is the perfect person to do it on,” because they wanted to see if the ventricle would get smaller. Also with the other guy, his ventricle got a lot bigger, so I guess it was just at the right time.

 

So now you’re taking the medications. What are the next steps in the process?

 

Well I email Dr. Klein, also from UCSF, every two or three weeks, to tell him how I’m feeling. I was off the medicine for a week, because I didn’t like how it made me feel, and I was trying to get used to it. It was really making me nauseous; I was tired, and I really didn’t like it. I told him, so he reduced the medication for me. And then I’ll go in again to UCSF in a couple of months and get an EKG.

 

And when would they know if the medications are a viable treatment? Would you be able to play basketball again?

 

They probably will not know until four or five years from now, because it’s a long process that goes along with that. I asked them if I could have my defibrillator out, and he said that if it works, then I can. I haven’t asked about a sport or anything. I haven’t really thought about it. I mostly think about people before me, and the people that it’s going to help. I’m not really concerned with me, because it’s been four years I haven’t played basketball. I’m trying not to get my hopes up about playing anymore. I’m just more concerned about those who might have it that are in the same situation as me that can’t play their sport. I haven’t thought about me playing basketball.

 

I remember when you first announced that you were quitting basketball because of ARVD, Joanne Boyle mentioned that when you were ready, you would use your platform to help others with this condition. So this is a very specific way for you to be able to do that.

 

Definitely. I think that’s one of the reasons why everything has happened to me, so I could have a platform to help those who are experiencing the situation that I have. It would be great, to just know that I was one of the candidates five to ten years from now, when they can do more research for this condition and find more medication for it and not just have to place a defibrillator in someone and tell them they can’t do something that they love to do. So yeah, in the long run, it will help me, and it will help a lot of other people too.

 

Before this opportunity with the clinical trial and actually helping with the possible treatment, you have been more focused on raising awareness about ARVD and helping others cope. Can you tell me about that?

 

Well, for example, I’ve talked to someone, she plays for South Carolina, and she has a condition—it’s not similar to mine, but she can’t play her sport any more. I was able to help her, talk to her about what I went through, some difficult times, and how it’s going to be, just to prepare her. She heard about my story, and she called me. From there, whenever she’s having a bad day or wants to talk to somebody who actually knows how she’s feeling, we’ll talk. I just tell her, whenever she’s feeling down, just give me a call. We still keep in contact. I’ve actually learned a lot about other people and about the condition, a lot of people who can’t play sports not because they have my exact condition, but just with heart problems. There’s a guy from USC, a couple of students died from it, there’s a guy from El Cerrito, somebody from Oregon who had a story on 360 on ESPN… After my own diagnosis, I’ve just discovered so many people who had their sport taken away or their lives taken away from having a heart condition.

 

It’s like a community sometimes gets developed when people support each other in dealing with a disease.  We hear it a lot with cancer, for example. But what about you personally? How have you coped these last few years, not only with having ARVD and not playing basketball anymore, but with losing your father not long before that?

 

Well, I’d say it’s been a lot a lot of therapy. It’s easy for people to just see how much… First of all, let me just thank for how much support I’ve got here. I have so much support; it’s just unbelievable. That has helped me cope with a lot of the things that I’ve been dealing with internally. 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 any more. It was just that so much had happened in those past two years… 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 after 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.

 

So basketball has helped to keep you occupied or distracted.  Does it still do that for you in some way, because you’re still part of the team even though you don’t play anymore? Or does being around the sport bring up triggers or memories that bring you pain?

 

I feel that it’s an ongoing thing. And I’m not about to say that I’m just okay now. I’m still dealing with everything. I feel like I’m still around basketball, you know, and I haven’t really been away from it since everything has happened. And it’s hard not to be away from it. So it’s like always dealing with two emotions, you love the game and you want to be around it, but sometimes being around it, it hurts. But I think I’ll probably always have these triggers, no matter how far along the process you are, four or five years from now, I’m sure I’ll still think of my dad or… Sometimes you get angry, because you were playing basketball with these girls, and they’re doing good… and these are unconscious feelings you get, and then you get mad or angry or sad. I think that as long as you’re able to accept it, it’ll become better. But until then, that’s when it’s hard.

 

Is that what you’re working on? Being able to accept things as they are and not putting them aside and pretending things are OK?

 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s definitely gotten a lot better. Definitely. But it’s still, I don’t think I’m still fully accepting of everything. And maybe I won’t, I don’t know. It just takes time.

 

You said earlier about having received a lot of support here. Could you talk a little more about what that means exactly?

 

Support in that freshman year—Joanne was a huge… She’s a great person. I really admire her and I love her so much. She’s amazing. Her being here, she gave me a lot of support, and she helped me so much. She hooked me up with a therapist that has definitely helped me a lot. I was seeing him three times a week, and I would call him, and even when I’m not on the schedule, he would see me.

 

So it must have been difficult for you when Joanne left?

 

It was hard. It was difficult. I didn’t want her to leave, but I understood that it was bigger than just the program; it was bigger than basketball. And we still kept in contact; we still keep in contact. So it was hard, but it’s not like we don’t talk any more. And even when Joanne left, coach G, she makes me feel that I’m still part of team. The team really cares for me and accepts me as a person and they look up to me, so it’s a lot easier for me to just be around everyone. They don’t treat me any different. They still say I’m part of the team, and if I don’t come to an event, they still text me and tell me to come. Just little things like that make feel me special and still part of the team, that’s really helped me.

 

The coaches and teammates, in showing that they care about you, helped to keep you pulled in, when it might have been so easy, with everything you were dealing with, to just spin off and be by yourself, or to quit the team altogether.

 

Sometimes I feel obligated to come, because they gave me a scholarship, and they renewed my scholarship every year. That’s their way to show that they appreciate me that they care about me, so why can’t I just show up to practice or do the little things for them? But sometimes I think, well, I have to take care of myself, and if I’m not OK, well, then all this means nothing. It’s about trying to balance that out, and it’s difficult. But me coming always outweighs the bad days, because I end up just seeing someone on my team who makes my day, or they end up saying something that just makes me feel like I’m special.

 

Because you can’t contribute on the court, how have you been able to support your teammates, to repay them in a sense, for the support they’ve given you?

 

I think it hasn’t much to do with basketball. Sometimes it does, because I feel that the team respects me, because of what I accomplished in the past. So they’d ask me, “Does this look right? Am I doing this right?” Little questions like that—the things that they may not ask the coaches, they’ll ask me. Just that, and then just life in general. We are all kind of the same age, and some are younger, and people are going through real-life things right now and trying to handle feelings and emotions and wondering how to deal with certain things. So I just talk to them about that. I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell them what I think is the best way to go. Just life or little basketball things. Like just to rebound for them. I rebound for Reshanda a lot; we’ll be in the gym at two in the morning. So just little things like that.

 

I remember for example, a couple of seasons ago, after some tough losses, you spoke to the team to encourage them to play harder and to appreciate the opportunity they have to play basketball. Is that role, that of being a leader or spokesperson, something that you enjoy?

 

I feel like that’s just been placed on me. I’m not a big talker. I’m really shy, and I don’t like to talk that much, but because of the things that people know about me, it’s like I’m supposed to do it. I don’t know.  I feel like since they feel comfortable enough because of what they know, I feel like I should be saying something. It’s weird. Sometimes I feel like I’m not the person they should be talking to, because I don’t have all the answers myself.

 

I’d like to revisit something you said earlier. You mentioned that at one point, you did not want to live anymore. And that you used to cut yourself?

 

Yes.

 

I apologize if this is too personal, but I feel that I would be remiss not to ask you about it, given that many of the team’s fans are young girls. When did this happen?

 

Freshman year. That’s one of the reasons why I’m starting to open up about that. I know a lot of people who are struggling right now. Freshman year, just being in a room by myself, and feeling like, just feeling very very very low. I would do things to myself, like cut myself, just to take the pain off of what I was going through and focus on something else. It was a mind thing for me, just my way to find another coping method. It sounds crazy right now, but it helped during the moment. Then it started getting serious, and I realized the change in myself. But of course, I don’t condone it at all, in any way.

 

How did you get the help you needed to stop?

 

Therapy. Like I said, I was very comfortable with who was I talking to. I felt like he was the right person for me, that he had my best interest, and me talking to him, as many times as I did talk to him, has helped me not do that any more. Therapy has helped me get through some dark moments.

 

If you are no longer cutting yourself as a way to relieve the pain, what less self-destructive ways are you using now to cope?

 

Honestly, it may sound cliché for those who don’t believe, but I go to church. I have really dedicated myself to going to church and being surrounded by Christian people, and positive people. Talia and Layshia, they’re Christians. I grew up in a Christian home, but I never really understood God, you know? But freshman year, that’s when I started trying to see why everything was happening, and understand my life and understand me. I couldn’t do that by myself, so I knew I had to look to a higher power.  And knowing that I can’t do everything by myself, and that things that have happened to me have been out of control, and me trying to control my life is not something that I should be doing, or not the best thing to do. And going to church, and having Talia and Layshia, big supporters of being a Christian, has helped me.  I could be doing therapy for the rest of my life, but what is that going to do? So I have to look towards other things, and just being around positive people and Christian people has helped me a lot. I’ve surrounded myself with so many positive people over the last year, and that’s helped me with my life and understanding my life and knowing that you’re not alone, knowing that you have people who have been through worse than you have, that are still going on. So that has helped me look at my life in a different perspective.

 

You’ve spoken about thinking about your father all the time. When he died, you made the promise that you would honor him by continuing to play and to play hard every game. Since that’s no longer possible, did you struggle with not being able to keep that promise to him? Or have you made peace with the fact that it was something you had no control over?

 

I don’t really think about it. I don’t think of it in that sense. But I do still think about how do I still show him my appreciation, how am I able to move forward when something that we bonded on is no longer here? And how do I know that he’s happy, you know? It’s like a confirmation, you just want to see him or hear him say, “You’re doing OK.”

 

Do you hear him? Do you talk to him still?

 

I talk to him. I try to get through to him, but he doesn’t really come. I don’t know why.  I asked him to come in my dreams, but he hasn’t, I don’t know why. But he came in my Mom’s, and my brother’s, so he hears him all the time, so that’s good. Maybe he’ll come to me later in my life. But my brother plays football now, and he tells me that he hears him in his ear, every time he’s playing. So that helps me, you know? It’s not about me. Maybe it’s not my time for him to come right now. But I still think about him a lot. There are a lot of things that I want answers to, just being a young female that doesn’t have her dad around, trying to understand life and trying to understand what I’m supposed to do next. He’s always on my mind, no matter what. There are a lot of things that I’ve struggled with, outside of basketball and outside of him. Just life, relationships, people. And yeah, just knowing if I’m doing OK. You always want that confirmation. When he was here, I did get that confirmation.

 

Your dad had many dreams for you as a basketball player. For example, he really wanted you to be the first San Francisco player to be a McDonald’s All-American, and you achieved that. What other dreams did he have for you?

 

Honestly, basketball was all we talked about. My mom was the one who was about academics and there’s more to life than just sports. My dad loved sports, football, baseball, everything. It was just a connection we had, sports. He wanted me to go to McDonald’s and I got that, he wanted me to play for someone who genuinely cared about me and not just the business, and I tried to do that. Wanted me in WNBA, and I can’t do that. But honestly, I don’t know. Maybe that’s what I want the answers to, you know? But all I can do is talk to him, and hopefully, through his spirit, he’ll show me.


What do you think he would say, if he did speak to you? Would he be happy?

 

It’d be a long talk. I don’t know. My dad, he’s open to everything. He’s not really a biased person. He’s very down with everything, just whatever. But I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have a really long talk about things. Because I think part of the reason why I do certain things in relationships or in life is because of the things I’ve been through and because he’s not here. So that plays a big part in everything that I do in life. So we’ll just talk.

 

We are formed by our personal history, for sure. And it’s important to recognize that our current actions may be in response to what has happened. On a lighter note, would your dad like your current haircut? Because it's super cute.

 

Yeah, he would love my hair! Definitely. I don’t know about the piercing. He’d probably make fun of it, but he’d be still, “Whatever you want to do.”

 

You mentioned your brother playing football now, which is great, because I know that they found that he had the genetic marker for ARVD as well, and you were worried about him. But he’s OK?

 

He’s fine. Since I have it, he needs to have it checked. But they say that if he had it, it would have shown by now, because he’s been very active in sports. There was a time when I kind of had asthma, when I was younger than him, but he’s had no symptoms. He’s fine, but they’re checking him every year, just in case. Usually, people who have ARVD, they just say you have asthma, because to diagnose ARVD, there are just too many tests you have to do, and it’s too expensive. So they would just diagnose people with asthma who had the symptoms that I had.

 

Can I ask you about your mom? She and your brother moved to Houston when you left for Cal. After you were diagnosed with ARVD, did you think about leaving Cal and moving to Houston?

 

Definitely. If they didn’t renew my scholarship, my mom wanted me back to Texas, of course. And even after, she was still hesitant, how was I going to cope, and she wanted to be by my side.

 

You sound like you were daddy’s girl growing up. How has your relationship with your mom changed over the last few years?

 

It changed tremendously, actually. Me and mom, you know, we were close, but my mom was more the academic person, and I just loved basketball so much, and my dad did too. But my mom, also, she was strict when I was younger, and I didn’t agree with some of the things… As a kid, you know, you want to go to the one that’s going to say yes. But after my dad passed, and after my heart condition, my mom and I, we bonded so much, and we got so much closer. I learned so much about her, why she did what she did, and just so much about her as a human, and not just as my mom. And I got closer to my brother. We just decided that we were in this together, and it’s just the three of us now, and we’re just going to have to make it work, and be here for one another. And that’s what we’ve been doing.

 

When you said that you decided together, was it a specific conversation, a coming together or sorts, or did it happen over time?

 

It just happened. I just saw how she handled things, and how she was here for me. She never really minimized how I felt and respected that I’d have bad days. And after she learned about the things I was doing to myself, she never got mad at me. She was just like, “We’re going to get through this.” There are times when I bet she felt the same way, but I know that she’s living and doing things for me and my brother, so it’s like, why can’t I do the same? So we’re sticking together, even though we have bad days, and even though sometimes we don’t feel that we want to be here, but at the end of the day, it’s for a bigger purpose, and so we’re going to get through it.  I just show my support by calling them and telling them I love them. I ask my mom if she’s OK, if she’s having a good day. So I call and text her, because there’s not really much I can do, because of the distance. When I do visit them, I turn my attention to them and not be on my phone, just little things like that, because I only get to see them like five days, in December, and then in August for another five to seven days. Even with my brother, he’s 16 years old, and he texts me every morning, “Have a good day.” Just little things like that, that shows me that he notices, that he thinks that I might be having a bad day, or that my mom might be having a bad day. It’s really genuine.

 

He’s had to grow up more quickly these last few years.

 

Yeah, he’s very mature, very mature. It surprises me the things he’d say and do. But it kind of forces him to do that, and not do the things he could have done when my dad was here with my mom. And now that he respects the fact that my mom is a single parent, he’s able to just be more mature and handle things differently.

 

Since she’s so focused on academics, your mom must be so proud of you. Lest we forget, in the midst of struggling with everything, you were still a student at Cal. It’s one thing to decide to accept the scholarship and stay in school, it’s another thing altogether to put in the day-to-day effort of being a student at one of the top universities in the world.

 

It was a challenge. It was a challenge. Well, not many people know that I have a learning disability. I don’t really talk about it; I don’t really need to talk about it.  But, that was a big problem with my success in school, and that I had a lot on my mind. But I got special tutors, and I was able to get through it. If everything works out the way it’s supposed to work out, I’ll be graduating next summer. I have one more class I’ll have to take next summer, which is Stats. So if everything works out, I’ll graduate this summer.

 

And now, here you are in your senior year. What’s going through your mind right now, as you think about your last year of college?

 

How everything went by so fast. It just happened so fast. You look back at something, and it’s like it happened yesterday.

 

What are your future plans after graduation?

 

I’m still trying to figure it out, but something that I really want to do, eventually, I want to write a book. I’ve been writing a lot, something that I’ve been doing, something that helps me cope also. But as far as a career, I know I want to stay in sports; I’m just not sure what that means. But whatever opportunity comes my way, I’m open to it, and hopefully that door opens another door and so on. I do want to move to the East Coast though. Something about the Bay Area that I don’t feel I belong here anymore, you know? I’ve been here all my life, I want to see something different, to be around different people. New York , New Jersey, somewhere in a city, diverse. Chicago? It’s because when you’ve been somewhere all your life, and so much has happened…

 

And what would you like for your final year of college basketball?

 

For the team, I would love for us to go to the Final Four, of course. Just have a successful year. I feel that this is our time. We have a great team. We have so much potential outside of basketball, everyone is so special on our team, I feel like the further we get, the more networking we get, just for everything, basketball and careers. So just for us to go far to be able to share our experiences and our ability with other people, that's a big goal I have for our team.

 

Is there anything you’d like to add, Tierra? You’ve shared a lot of personal things, and I just want to make sure that you have the chance to correct anything or say things again the way you meant them.

 

Sometimes my words get mixed up, and some articles in the past have made feel like I shouldn’t have said certain things, you know? But I feel comfortable with everything that we’ve said.

 

I want to thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with us and being as open as you have. I know that’s not easy when you’re shy. But more than that, I really appreciate you being so real about your struggles instead of trying to paint a sanitized picture.   

 

I definitely don’t know how to do that, when I have real feelings inside.

 

Take care, Tierra. And best of luck with the treatment.

 

Thanks.

 

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