Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Volunteering for a booth promoting Bell Let's Talk day on Wednesday took on a very poignant meaning for MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball player Tess Pearman.
Last September, her boyfriend was killed in a motor vehicle accident.
Three weeks later, she learned her grandfather had passed away in Winnipeg.
Pearman admitted her mental health suffered through the tough grieving process, making Bell Let's Talk day a cause she dearly supports.
"I am a huge supporter and try to be an advocate for Bell Let's Talk because I went through a little bit of depression and literally not knowing what to do with my life," she said. "It's really helped just to be able to talk about it and be open with it, knowing that everyone accepts you no matter who you are or what happened to you.
"You're still the same person, you just struggle with different things more than other people."
After her boyfriend was tragically killed, she took some time away from the team. When Pearman returned, her teammates helped carry her through a tough time.
"They were amazing. I took about a week-and-a-half off and they made me a little basket when I came back," she said. "For me, I just wanted them to treat me as normal as they possibly could so it could help me to get back into a normal routine that I had to somehow figure out to do. They were really understanding of it.
"As much as they tried to treat me normal, they were, 'Tess, if you need anything, we'll be right there.' I couldn't have asked for a better team to support me through this."
This weekend, with the Griffins supporting Bell Let's Talk mental health initiatives during MacEwan's matches against Calgary on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym), Pearman wants to continue to champion the cause that's helped her become more comfortable getting help.
"Mental illness is something many people go through and don't understand sometimes and it affects so many people," she said. "Now that it's OK to talk about it and it's so accepted, I think it helps those people that aren't super comfortable with it, be OK with it.
"For me, it's a relief, being able to sometimes just put the weight somewhere else. I don't have to just keep it on my shoulders. I get to sometimes put it on other people's shoulders and they get to hear about my story and my life," she added. "Maybe if they see someone sad and not doing so well, they'll be the person to go up to them and say 'hey, are you OK?' Just always check in on people."
Tess Pearman smiles during a match earlier this season against Winnipeg. Support from her teammates during a time of grieving helped her immensely (Chris Piggott photo).
On the court, Pearman has recently taken on a larger role with the Griffins in her rookie Canada West season. The 6-foot right-side from Ponoka has stepped up in the wake of an injury to starter Janna Ogle that's left extra minutes for MacEwan's other outside hitters.
"Being kind of her first year playing, it's been a real learning curve for her," said Griffins head coach Ken Briggs. "She has real moments. For us, she's a really big piece of the puzzle over the next four years. There's growing pains, but her physical ability is just now catching up to how fast this game goes – the system part of things that she's got to work through. Her role is increasing by the day."
Pearman noted the learning curve has been steep, but feels she's settling in to her role and is growing as a university student-athlete.
"When I kind of got thrown to the wolves in my first U SPORTS match, it was a huge learning experience. The team was awesome. No matter what happened, they were always picking me up," she said. "I was so grateful that I got the chance; I know because of injuries I get to be out there. Every second I'm out on the court I'm so grateful for it. To be able to play at the best level in Canada is an honour."
Briggs believes the sky's the limit for Pearman, who grew up in Ponoka and played club volleyball with the Red Deer College Queens.
"When she figures it out, she has the physical ability to be a top-notch offensive weapon," he said. "She reaches high and she hits the ball hard. It's just to get all of that consistently and understand when and where.
"I've said it for years – experience cannot be replaced," he added. "That's why fourth and fifth years are so much better because they understand the game and the flow and what's expected. It's understanding. It takes so long to play at this level."
Pearman comes from a multi-sport background that included following her mother Shawna's footsteps into the world of speedskating.
Her mom participated in speedskating at the Canada Winter Games. Her sister Maddison Pearman is currently on the Canadian national speedskating team. Tess Pearman won two golds at the Alberta Winter Games and went to some national championships before ultimately deciding volleyball was her sport of choice.
"I had to make the tough decision whether to keep skating or play volleyball and I kind of fell in love with volleyball," she said.
"In some ways the strength I gained from speedskating with my legs – because it's pretty demanding for the legs – has helped me with being able to not just use my height for volleyball, but to be able to jump even higher," she said.
In the thick of a playoff race, the Griffins will face perhaps their toughest competition of the season.
"The newly anointed No. 1 in the nation," Briggs said of the Dinos. "They're a very good team. They're coming into their peak this year and then they host nationals next year. They have three exceptionally-gifted offensive ladies.
"Our serving game has to be as good as it can be," he added. "In Regina on the weekend, we had 11 or 12 aces in a match, which is good. We just can't match that in receive and give them 11 or 12 (aces). It's going to come down to the serve, serve-receive game and then we're going to have to execute.
"This is a huge step. A good thing historically, we've loved to play Calgary. It's like UBC. We've always had really good matches against them. As long as we rise to the occasion. We're looking forward to it. We know it's a huge challenge."