Titanic romance led Ted Pierson to the Tournament Capital and his love for athletics will live on in the Kamloops Sports Hall of Fame.
Ted was inducted posthumously on Saturday during a banquet at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre, a fete attended by, among others, his 88-year-old widow Sheila — the Kate Winslet to his Leonardo DiCaprio.
The strangers, Ted from Northern Ireland and Sheila from England, boarded the same ship en route home in 1956, both having finished visits with North American family across the pond.
“He came and asked me to dance,” said Sheila, who was 27 when Ted coaxed her into a waltz. “Actually, I was engaged to a schoolteacher, but that all fell through. He said to me, ‘Oh, Sheila, you know, I come over to London sometimes. I’d like to look you up.’
“Oh, he called on me and that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.”
They immigrated to Canada together in 1957, were married in Saskatoon, moved to Vancouver Island and eventually settled in Kamloops in 1965, when Ted landed a job with BC Tel in its engineering department.
“We found Kamloops on the map and came for an interview,” Sheila said. “We’ve been here ever since and loved it.”
Ted, who was born in 1923, was an Irish javelin champion and once broke the sport’s European record. He was named to the British team for the 1948 Olympic Summer Games in London, but an injury kept him from competing.
Neil Pierson, Ted’s son, made an acceptance speech on behalf of Ted and the Piersons on Saturday at the annual Kamloops Hall of Fame banquet.
“I had to cut out a page of things he volunteered in,” Neil said. “It just kept going on and on and on.”
Ted, who was also an Irish champion decathlete, joined the Kamloops Legion Klippers Track and Field Club when he moved to the city and began coaching youth when not in action himself.
“He thoroughly enjoyed his work with the young people, to see them excel and to help out when he could,” said Sheila, whose husband’s volunteer work extended outside of the track-and-field scene, to sports such as soccer and hockey.
“It was a very meaningful experience for him over the years. It was one of his, I guess, thrills to share his love of the javelin, discus and shot put with upcoming young people,” she said.
Dylan Armstrong, who went on to win a bronze medal in shot put at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, was taught by Pierson, who also developed a love for coaching Special Olympians.
“He loved the raw energy and enthusiasm people would put into their sport,” Neil said, noting his father was involved with BC Athletics on an organizational level. “It’s a really great honour for our family to have him recognized.”
The aging athlete continued to push himself, racking up medals in provincial and national Seniors Games events from 1991 to 2000.
Ted was two weeks removed from competing at the Canadian Masters Track and Field Championships and preparing for the world championships when he suffered a coronary thrombosis and died in August of 2000. He was 76.
“His life was full that year,” Neil said. “To go from that to it ending was really a shock for us.”
Added Sheila: “Thankfully, he had experienced both of his parents becoming senile and he always said, ‘I hope the good Lord takes me like that.’ And that’s what happened. I had to rejoice and be glad in it.”
The Piersons’ story was Best Picture worthy and didn’t end in the icy depths of the North Atlantic, a script flipped with a happy ending — unless you were the cold-shouldered schoolteacher.
Here’s to hoping the poor soul who wasn’t on board found a relationship that didn’t sink, but the toast on Saturday was to Ted — near, far, wherever he is — and it was well-deserved.
“It’s great that he died on the top of his world,” Neil said. “She is pretty proud to see her husband acknowledged. She sacrificed with not having him around a lot, giving him a leash to do what he enjoyed doing. It’s a really great honour for our family.”