Elizabethtown graduate Emily Pearman spent three days in the hospital at the end of her sixth-grade year and her life was forever changed.
“At the time I was participating in three sports, so I wasn’t worried about being tired all the time,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was then, but I’ve always been a strong-willed person and in my mind nothing was going to stop me from dreams of eventually running in college. Nothing would deter me from that.
“It discouraged me at first with the overwhelming amount of information. My dad probably had the biggest impact on me. He said, ‘You’re fine. You’re perfectly fine.’ I didn’t run for about a week and I went on a run with my dad and I came back crying, ‘This is just too much.’ Then it kind of clicked. I figured out the right balance and the rest is history, I guess.”
Pearman was selected for the Mitchell Henry Memorial Award of Courage Friday evening at Select Preps 2020.
It is given annually to a student athlete, a current coach or an athletic program supporter who has overcome obstacles in life to participate, coach or support high school varsity athletics.
“I had no idea,” she said of being nominated or winning the award. “I wasn’t watching the award ceremony and someone texted me and told me.
“I looked into it after I won it and I’m so honored to have won that award.”
Henry was a former multi-sport athlete at Elizabethtown and a football standout at tight end at Western Kentucky University. He died on June 30, 2017 after a seven-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
He graduated in 2011 from Elizabethtown and 2015 from WKU.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end had two stints with the Green Bay Packers. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and released during final roster cuts. He signed with the Packers again in 2016, after spending five weeks with the Denver Broncos, and was released at the end of training camp.
She is the third recipient of the award. Elizabethtown graduate Morgan Gattis won it in 2018 and Central Hardin assistant boys’ basketball and baseball coach Scott Squires last year.
The award is chosen by Henry’s wife Madison and parents Leslie and Terry Henry.
Pearman was nominated for the award by Elizabethtown cross country coach Jack Breunig.
“My father, who passed away in 2013, battled type 1 diabetes his entire life, so I have a first-hand understanding of how this disease can affect a person,” Breunig wrote in the nomination. “It absolutely astonishes me to see what Emily has been able to do, and I can’t wait to see what this determination will lead to in her future.
“Now, the qualifications for the Mitchell Henry Memorial Award of Courage read, ‘a nominee should reflect someone who has overcome adversity and shows a never give up courage.’ Not only did Emily have to deal with a diagnosis of type one diabetes as a sixth grader, she persevered through it and became stronger. She is a modest, kind, incredible young lady who is highly deserving of the Mitchell Henry Memorial Award of Courage.”
Breunig worked alongside Leslie Henry, Mitchell Henry’s mother for “many years” at Morningside Elementary.
“Over the next six years, Emily decided to focus on the sport of running while learning to manage her diabetes,” Breunig wrote. “She absolutely refused to allow this diagnosis to define her life. Emily has never made an excuse for her performance, even when her performance may actually have been affected by low blood sugar. In fact, in the two years that I served as her varsity coach, any conversation I had with Emily about her diabetes was one that I initiated.
“At the end of year banquet, when I spoke about Emily and mentioned her diabetes, well over half of the team looked surprised, and I realized then that they didn’t know about her diabetes. Let me say at this point that Emily isn’t just a runner — she is a top-notch competitor. This young lady has so many achievements in running, it’s really incredible. She has been a state championship meet qualifier in XC (cross country) six times, including a top 15 individual performance, and she has competed twice in the Foot Locker South Regional Championships. In track, Emily has finished in the top 2 in the region three times in the 3200-meter run and has qualified for at least four state track meets in various events. And these accolades don’t even include the half and full marathons that she has run.”
Pearman will attain her goal of running in college when she enters the University of Kentucky in the fall, where she will study biology.
“My team has been the best support I’ve ever had,” she said. “Whenever they ask if I want to run and I don’t feel like running, they say, ‘Let’s run’ and I always go with the team. They make it so fun, especially when I’m not feeling it and I don’t want to run that day. All of us push each other.”
That includes teammates from this past cross country season, when the Lady Panthers finished 10th in the Class 2-A standings, and her junior year after transferring from LaRue County, and getting to run with Elizabethtown’s Sarah Been.
“I had raced against her for many years and I was always amazed with how fast she was,” Pearman said. “She inspired me to be more like her. She was so nice and welcoming when I joined the team. I knew it was right.”
The road has not always been easy for Pearman.
She finished 14th in the Class 2-A state cross country meet as a freshman, 110th as a sophomore and 70th the past two seasons with the Lady Panthers.
“I had a lot of injuries from overuse and it was very hard mentally to go through,” she said. “With the help of my team I made it through. I definitely felt very discouraged, but I never gave up on wanting to run in college and getting faster.”
Pearman has spent the past six years balancing life, running and diabetes.
“I don’t see it as letting it affect me anymore,” she said. “I don’t see myself any differently.”