Last April Sam Paolini ’03 became the first Cornellian to win the Hockey Humanitarian Award. As he took the stage and accepted, his teammates filled in behind him, showing their support for Paolini and his charitable programs. In the background was junior defenseman Jan Pajerski. It’s a position Pajerski has occupied over his two-plus seasons with the men’s hockey team, and the reason he was honored with this month’s Red Key Society Sportsmanship Award.
Pajerski isn’t a flashy goal scorer or defensive bruiser, yet according to his coach he doesn’t have to be — the junior makes his impact through dedication and hard work.
“Day in and day out, he doesn’t get any of the publicity, but he’s a kid on our team who blocks shots in practice, works hard, and pays attention to detail,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
While size and skill are important, so is heart, something Schafer noted Pajerski had plenty of.
“A lot of athletes at Cornell quit if they’re not in the line up, if they don’t have the glory, or aren’t in the limelight,” he said. “It’s one of the things that bothers me about sports on our campus and athletes in general, either you play for the love of the game or you shouldn’t play.
“[Jan] represents what’s best about an athlete. Day in and day out he comes here, never complains, works extremely hard, and he’s always one of the first guys to volunteer for community service and be involved in the community,” Schafer continued.
While Pajerski’s most recent event was this fall’s crop walk, he’s also been involved in more long term programs. He was instrumental in Ithaca’s “Special Population Skate,” a program for physically handicapped individuals that was started by Paolini. Every Sunday he helped special-needs children and adults learn how to skate.
“Just to come out — even for one hour a week — just to see the looks on the kids’ faces when we came out,” Pajerski said. “It is really special when you can see that you can bring joy to another person’s life.”
Yet community service is nothing new to Pajerski. Helping others is a virtue that was instilled in him as a child.
“It’s always nice to help others less fortunate as you, that’s the way I was brought up. You obviously want to do the best you can for yourself, but you want to help other people as well.”
Pajerski was selected by a committee of Red Key members after he was nominated by Schafer.
“It was probably the longest recommendation I had ever written for someone,” said Schafer. “I didn’t think the award would go to him because a lot of time it goes to the big name people. Obviously, I’m very proud of him.”
Pajerski was pleasantly surprised when the society told him he had won.
“I was really honored, pretty much surprised by it too,” said Pajerski. “I didn’t expect it at all. Obviously it feels good.”
Besides playing hockey and volunteering his time, Pajerski is a student in the Engineering College. Yet being busy doesn’t keep him from giving back to the community, and feels it shouldn’t deter others either.
“I think all people who are fortunate and who have a lot in life should take some time to give back. Everyone leads busy lives and stuff, but when you actually sit down and look at what you really have here at Cornell, it’s unbelievable. Everyone should try to give back a bit.”
Archived article by Matt Janiga