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
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
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
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?
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
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
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.
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
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
I definitely don’t know how to do that, when I have real
Take care, Tierra.
And best of luck with the treatment.