April and James Reimer are living out their faith in the world of professional hockey.
Like many students, B.C. native April (Dalman) Reimer met her future husband while she was at Briercrest College and Seminary. But the rest of her story isn’t so ordinary.
April is married to James Reimer, goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Together they are striving to live out their faith in the world of professional hockey.
“I met him through a mutual friend,” she said. “She was going to the game in Moose Jaw because (James) was playing in the WHL (for Red Deer) at the time. She was going to the game and needed a friend to go with her.”
April, who played on the Clipper basketball team during 2007-2008, had never been to a hockey game before that night.
“Let’s just say I followed every sport but hockey until then,” she said laughing.
After meeting James at that one game in Moose Jaw, the two stayed connected through Facebook, on-line chatting and long distance phone calls.
“Just randomly over the summer we planned a visit and he came out,” April reported.
That visit began a long distance dating relationship.
“There was a lot of flying that first year,” April said. “I think I was in like 19 different airports in one year . . . . “It wasn’t, ‘Okay, let’s go for a date to the movies.’ It was, ‘Okay, I’m flying to South Carolina and back for a weekend.’”
April graduated from British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in May of 2010. That same year she and James were married in June and they moved to Toronto in September.
She admits that the pace of her life in the spotlight is very different.
“It’s a very unique life,” she said. “It’s not your typical 9 to 5 and your two week vacation. You have eight months straight of crazy hockey schedule. You can’t control your life or your schedule. Then two to four months off every summer – depending on play-offs. Not many people can say, ‘Hey, I have the whole summer off!’ Teachers I guess.”
April finds that life in the limelight has some benefits.
“Especially in the Toronto market, everybody knows the players,” she said. “Everybody’s a big fan. Not only in Toronto but everywhere in Canada pretty much you’ll find Leaf fans. In that case it’s great because then you have fans who are supportive of the game and supportive of the guys and everyone’s sort of a part of it.”
Having this sort of fame, however, also carries a big responsibility.
“There does come something with that role of being (James’) wife,” she admitted. “You do have to carry yourself positively and you have to be careful what you say and what you do and realize who you’re talking to. Whatever I do will reflect on what James is.”
Being a recognizable figure has provided April and James some great opportunities for ministry.
“There was a “Faith and Family Night” at one of the (Toronto) Marlies games and James spoke at it afterwards,” she said. “It was just really cool to see. . . .He would not have this opportunity if he wasn’t playing hockey and at the platform that a successful player can have for Christ. It’s one of those things where, ‘No, this is why God put you in this position.’ In those cases it’s really exciting because you see the bigger picture.”
James is clear that his hockey career is God-given.
“My hockey career ever since I was a kid has been nothing but a miracle or remarkable,” he insisted. “So many doors have opened when they shouldn’t have. So many things have happened that don’t normally happen. When I first got noticed by my junior team – I wasn’t on the list for anyone—nobody knew my name. One scout saw me play one game and he drafted me off of one game which is kind of unheard of. . . So obviously I realize that where I am is a gift or a blessing.”
April says much of her spiritual beliefs were instilled in her at a young age by her parents. Her father is pastor of Maple Ridge Alliance Church in Maple Ridge, B.C. She is also thankful for the role Briercrest played in her spiritual life.
“I definitely verified a faith of my own that year,” she said. “I’ve always grown up with (faith) but I was never really on my own and had to make my own decisions.”
The world of professional sports forces the Reimers to regularly weigh their priorities.
“It’s little harder at times,” April admitted. “It’s such a secular, materialistic world. Yes, it’s the same world that we all live on – there’s only one planet – but it’s a completely different world than what I’m used to. Like growing up – I’m a pastor’s kid – you don’t really go into the ministry for the money. I’ll put it that way!”
James and April have witnessed how the monetary wealth of many hockey players keeps them from realizing their need for God. They hope to point their fellow players and the players’ families to God by their relationships with them.
“When you’re at this level and everything’s going well and you’re getting a big paycheque, it’s pretty hard to realize that you need Someone bigger,” James said. “The best thing possible is to gain some solid friendships, show them who Christ is, and have them make that decision.”
“I think there are times when they may have problems like anyone does,” April added. “But in this case because they have so much money it’s sort of easy to just throw the money at the problems or sort of belittle the problems. But at the same time. . . they still need Christ.”
Having a personal faith in Christ has helped the Reimers to navigate through the pressures that come with fame.
“In the game and in the pressure-filled situations, my relationship with Him is kind of what keeps me sane--especially in this market with all the pressure and expectations,” James said.
“I personally do not understand how guys who are not Christians can be in this situation playing hockey in general,” April said. “There’s so many unknowns. There’s so much performance-based stuff. If you don’t have Christ, it’s all on you. And when you fail – which you will because you’re only human—then it’s just you have nowhere to turn.”
James refers to Philippians 4:9 to describe God’s “peace that passes understanding” keeps him centred in the world of professional hockey.
“Playing in the NHL – that peace that Philippians talks about – that’s what I really experience here in that kind of whirlwind that the Toronto market is. It’s a huge part of my life and it really is my life,” he said.
The couple is honest about what they hope for during their time in Toronto.
“Obviously to win,” James exclaimed. “That’s what you want to do.”
“The first answer that comes to mind honestly is winning the Stanley Cup,” April said with a smile. “That is always the goal.”
But she is clear about the bigger goal they have in life.
“It’s more than just James and it’s more than just me and it’s more than just hockey,” she said. “Yes, hockey’s a big part of our life, but it’s not our first goal in life. Faith come first – then family – then hockey.”