WENDELL — People are motivated by a number of things. Good, bad and in between, we all hang our future on something that moves us, that makes us tick.
When the first class to roam the halls at Corinth Holders High School for four years graduated last month, in a sea of purple and gold there was one student that shined not because of an array of accomplishments, although she possessed more than her share.
The most recent recipient of The Ross Renfrow Pirate Female Athlete of the Year Award possesses something much more important than any accolade or senior superlative could ever encapsulate. Cyarra Pierson has a ‘heart of gold.’ And this student-athlete is ever so refreshingly motivated by one simple thing: to do what is right.
At first look, Pierson may naively be viewed as just a jock, a gym rat or any other term used to describe someone motivated by sports to the point that they spend more hours a week dedicated to the endeavor than not.
It would be easy to think this, seeing that Pierson excelled in three sports during her time, four if you include her first two years playing softball, which you should because as her father Dave will tell you it might have been her best sport.
Whether in the fall as outside hitter on the volleyball team, in the winter as a leader for the basketball team or in the spring as member of the track and field squad carrying out long- and triple-jump duties, Pierson left her mark on Pirate athletics.
Not only was Pierson an active member for each team – she was a leader, a motivator.
“She is an excellent competitor and has a strong desire to not only excel but to help her team in any way possible,” track coach Peter Clark said. “She is a true leader in the fact that she puts the team first and her individual stats aside. Track and field has 18 events and she would be willing to do any of those to help her team win.”
For a school that opened its doors without upperclassmen, Pierson became a role model from the start.
“For our basketball program, she has been a leader for us since day one,” Pirates hoops coach Brandy Smith said. “She’s one where you never have to worry about a player having your back as a coach, or wondering would she set the tone for the younger athletes that come into the program.
“True leadership is hard to replace, but I can only hope that the she has left a mark amongst the younger players – that they will have had someone that they were able to see all that she was able to do and accomplish, and strive to go even beyond that.”
It’s a mark Pierson continues to leave as she spends a couple hours each day, even as a new Corinth Holders graduate, working out with the returning basketball players to help prepare for next season.
She’s not trying to leave her mark or create a legacy. She does it because she feels returning a favor is the right thing to do.
“It’s not that I want to leave an impact there but it’s more that I love to help out,” Pierson said. “I love helping people, especially people who have done so much for me. I couldn’t have made it four years of high school without coach Smith.”
Smith helped Pierson through the recruitment process, not for basketball but for Pierson’s passion: volleyball.
Thanks to Smith’s assistance and Pierson’s talent as an outside hitter, Pierson was rewarded with an athletic scholarship to Greensboro College for volleyball.
“We were lucky to find Cyarra late in the spring season and I was so glad she had not been grabbed up already,” Greensboro volleyball coach Kaci Loeffler said. “Watching her play I could tell she was a true competitor as well as consistent on the court.
“After meeting her and her family for a campus visit it was very evident Cyarra was grounded in a great work ethic on the court and in the classroom.”
A Star in the Classroom
A second look at Pierson might lead one to ascertain she is strictly an ultra-motivated academic.
She finished her high school career with a 3.97 GPA. She thought she had earned an ‘A’ in her challenging pharmacy technician class, which would have put her over a 4.0.
Less than a week after graduating, Pierson passed her N.C. Nurse Aide Certification skill and written exam to become certified as a CNA.
As part of the Nursing Fundamentals program at Corinth Holders, Pierson learned 66 patient care skills in the classroom and lab and had to perform 40 clinical hours with direct patient care at Johnston Health in Smithfield.
“Cyarra is a great student and I am privileged to have taught her,” said Jennifer Sanders, Pierson’s teacher. “She is a mature, responsible, caring individual and it surely shined through in the classroom. Cyarra’s goal is to become a pediatric nurse dealing especially with children suffering with cancer. Her attributes will work well in this area.”
Pierson always wanted to help people.
Even as an elementary school student, Pierson, along with her younger brother Mike, would run a makeshift lemonade stand to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Cyarra didn’t feel called to nursing, however, until after seeing her older sister, Candyce, enter the field.
“My sister went to nursing school and I saw how much it changed her life and all the opportunities it opened up for her,” Pierson recalled. “It really inspired me listening to her stories, working with different patients and getting connected to them.”
A Heart of Gold
It happened when Cyarra was on a vacation to visit her sister in New Jersey and her brother called her with some upsetting news that would alter her summer plans before her senior year began.
Cyarra’s mother, Maureen, was badly injured in a car accident. With her husband out of work on disability for being injured in a separate accident, Maureen would be forced to be out of work for at least three months with disability not being an option.
Without a second thought, Cyarra again proved willing and able to do the right thing.
With potential financial hardships for her family on the horizon, Cyarra approached Steve Matthews, owner of Matthews Motors Clayton, to inquire if she could fill in for her mother in her role of receptionist.
Matthews had no doubt Cyarra could do the job.
“She picked up on it real easily,” Matthews said. “She’s quite a young lady balancing all that she had going on with school, volleyball and having to deal with both of her parents being hurt for awhile. She wanted to pitch in and help and she did a great job.”
With there being some overlap between summer basketball and volleyball workouts, Pierson would often leave the house at 6:30 in the morning and not return until 8:30 at night during a summer in which most rising seniors want to relax.
“Our daughter has a heart of gold,” Maureen Pierson said. “I had no money coming in and Cyarra took over my position…to secure it and help us financially. She is our angel.”
Balancing it all
For any student-athlete, it’s a challenge to balance school and sports. But for Cyarra Pierson, she wouldn’t have wanted to roam the halls (and courts, fields, etc.) of Corinth Holders any other way.
“I’ve always been playing sports year round since I was a kid,” Pierson said. “I’ve always been motivated to do well in school. My parents have pushed me.
“It was hard – it wasn’t an easy thing to do but it was something that I knew I wanted and something that I had to do to be successful.”
Smith, whose bond with Pierson appears as strong as a bond between player and coach can be, perhaps said it best.
“From personal obstacles to normal everyday life of a teenager, who also carries the load of being a multi-sport athlete, she has shown what it truly means to be a student-athlete.”
Looking back on his daughter’s high school years, it was the commitment his daughter displayed that has Dave Pierson scratching his head sometimes.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “To do that, to be that committed, to be that athletic and to be able to manage it all, that’s what blew me away the most.”