When Mark Pearson steps on to the field on Sunday in Spain and joins an exclusive club of Canadian field hockey players to have played 200 international matches for his country, the veteran midfielder from Tsawwassen, British Columbia will do so while on the precipice of another milestone.
It’s one that he has been chasing for the better part of a decade.
Pearson is currently in Europe finishing up a tour during which the Canadian Men’s National Team has faced Olympic-bound Ireland and Spain.
The trip is part of the final stages of Canada’s preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, where Pearson is hoping to once again become an Olympian.
“The biggest thing is on the horizon in a couple months and that’s what I’m focused on right now,” says the 28 year-old who was introduced to field hockey by his mother and father, who came to Canada from Ireland and England respectively.
What Pearson is referring is the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
After competing in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, comparing Olympic Games can’t be easy. But for Pearson this time around is much different.
“Competing in an Olympics was certainly a highlight, but being injured during the qualification process obviously hurt,” he “And that was a big goal of mine to be a part of a team that did qualify.”
A wrist injury kept him out of the Olympic qualification stage in 2007 – in fact he was off the field for nearly ten months. All the while, Pearson watched while his mates gave their all en route qualifying for the biggest stage in their sport.
But there was a silver lining. One, more than eight years and two Olympic cycles later, Pearson is able to see clearly.
“When you’re 20 and 21 and you’re watching the guys qualify for the Olympics and really just not being able to hold a stick, it was tough,” he recalls. “It made me appreciate the sport and made me realize how much I wanted to be out there.”
It also made him realize that he wanted to be a part of the qualification process for an Olympic Games as much as he wanted to once again compete in the Olympics.
Canada did not qualify for the 2012 Olympic in London, so the wait has been long.
But last year at the World League Semifinal in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he was right in the thick of things as Canada qualified for the Olympic Games with an upset victory over the higher ranked New Zealand Blacksticks in the tournament quarterfinal.
“To achieve that last year in Argentina was something I’ll never forget,” he says. “Competing now in an Olympics I was there for the qualification for is huge. That was always the pre-eminent goal that I had since 2008.”
It’s those moments that Pearson looks back on as among the fondest of his career.
“Team success is always the priority,” he says. “To be honest, there’s really no better feeling than achieving success with a group and being able to savor a beer after knowing you’ve accomplished your goal.”
As a young player, who competed in an Olympics early and followed that up with qualification and competition in the 2010 World Cup, success is something that Pearson got used to.
“I was there thinking this is great, every year or two we’re going to have some major successes,” he recalls. “But sport doesn’t work like that and it took us a while to get back to a place where we could just really achieve our goals.”
And now, as he prepares to return to the Olympic Games as one of the leaders of the team (Canada’s official Olympic roster will be named on July 5), Pearson credits previous leaders for his current success.
Veterans Rob Short, Canada’s team captain at the 2008 Olympics and Canada’s second-most capped men’s field hockey player, and his brother Peter Short – also an Olympian – are also from Twawwassen and helped shaped Pearson as a player and a person.
“Him and his brother were big impacts on me,” he says. “Guys that stood by me at times and weren’t afraid to tell when I had to shape up my act sometimes.”
Pearson also names Paul Wetlaufer and Steven Davis as players who have had positives impacts on his career. And he also recognizes the growth he has made through some internal analysis.
“Going overseas for a few years was huge for me because I realized I do have a lot of work left to do on my game,” he says of his time spent playing in club hockey Germany and Belgium in recent years. “And I did put the work in and I think that the results are showing now.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it and I’ve still got goals left to accomplish.”