Calgary Inferno player Jacquie Pierri creates 'Keep the Beat', to raise awareness for heart disease

thumb infernoPhoto 2The relationship between a child and parent can take many forms, but the bond between Jacquie Pierri, 25, and her father Al Pierri was far greater than anything imaginable. 

Two years ago, Al Pierri died from a heart attack while he was playing recreation hockey in Florida. This was not his first heart attack on a sheet of ice, Al suffered a heart attack before, when Jacquie was 10 years old. 

The irony in him having both of his heart attacks while playing hockey is not lost on me,” said Jacquie, a member of Calgary, Alta.’s own professional women’s hockey team Calgary Inferno, part of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Hockey was the foundation of the bond between Jacquie, her father and her brother. She said her father immersed himself in the sport and it became their family “thing.” 

“My dad was born in Italy and emigrated at a very young age to the Bronx. He grew up on basketball, football and baseball, and I don’t think it was until my brother went on a school field trip to the rink and decided he wanted to play, that hockey became a part of our family,” she said. 

“He bought a Hockey-for-Dummies book, went to an adult-learn-to-skate, coached us and even ended up running the local house league.”

Jacquie’s years of playing hockey, especially at an elite level, helps her stay connected to her father, allowing her to draw strength through memories of him. 

Unfortunately, that was not the only heart related tragedy that struck Jacquie and her family. Jacquie’s cousin Tori Rubino, passed away in her sleep about six years ago when Rubino was 22. 

Rubino came home for a break from her studies at Boston University and died during the night due to an undiagnosed heart condition, said Jacquie.  

“Tori was the eldest in a tight-knit group of eight cousins. She was very much a role model and trailblazer for me my whole life. She went to university first, she travelled on her own first and she really demonstrated to me what being a good person should look like. She had an amazing knack for defusing high tension situations with her witty humour,” Jacquie said. 

“She would be 28 this year. I can hardly believe that six years have gone by since she passed away.”

Jacquie realizes these heart conditions have not only claimed her father and cousin, but they also robbed two loved ones of having long lives. infernoPhoto 3Keep the Beat, organized by Calgary Inferno player Jacquie Pierri, donates half of its proceeds to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.                 Photo Courtesy of Dave Holland, Calgary Inferno

“Especially when things are going well for me, I think about the opportunities and experiences she never got to have: Graduating from Boston University, beginning her career, perhaps even getting married,” Jacquie said. 

“Losing her is by the far the most difficult thing I've ever experienced in my life. Every day I think about the fact that we can’t build new memories together and that my other cousins no longer have their big sister.”

One of the strongest memories Jacquie has of Rubino, was of her tap dancing. Rubino’s affinity for tap dancing was what inspired a charity hockey game called “Keep the Beat” organized by Jacquie.

Keep the Beat is a charity hockey game hosted by the Inferno on behalf of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Pierri organized the game in memory of her cousin, from which 50 per cent of the proceeds will be donated to the foundation.

In last years Keep the Beat charity event, held Feb. 13 2015, the Calgary Inferno played the Boston Blades and raised $2,500 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Last year the Calgary Inferno joined the Flames Foundation, which allows the women’s hockey team to give back to the community through various charity events.

“Community is everything. Being part of the community is how you make that connection of the people that come and watch your game, that are part of your fan base, part of your growing family,” said Chantal Champagne, general manager of the Inferno, “we have been working really hard to make that connection.” 

Going into her fourth season with the team, Champagne suggests that they broke through the ceiling just last year, regarding recognition among Calgary hockey fans. Last season was quite successful for the Inferno, they were 14-1-3-6 and finished second in the league. 

Want a chance to be part of Keep the Beat? The Calgary Journal has two tickets to a Calgary Inferno game, Feb. 13th, 2016, and two Keep the Beat T-shirts for some lucky winner.                                                             How to enter: Go to our Facebook page and find the link to the online version of this article. Like and share the post and in the comments, let us know if heart related diseases have affected you or your loved ones. The first 20 to post will be entered to win the tickets and T-shirts. 

However, Champagne said another major aspect of charity work is not only what can be done for the community, but also what giving back does for the team. 

“Having a few charities that we are involved with, maybe not everyone will touch everybody but one of them will, and having one player doing the Heart and Stroke charity, it touched certain players,” she said. 

“But every player gets engaged and they want to be part of it because it has touched their teammate in some way, shape or form in their personal lives. Hence, why we always want to support that.”

* Thumbnail Photo Courtesy of Ari Yanover, Calgary Inferno 

The editor responsible for this article is Jesse Buchholz,