Thursday, April 10, 2008

The smile says it all

The smile says it all

by Davin Gulbranson, abridged and reprinted with permission from Sports Spectrum magazine at
Meet Jarome Iginla, superstar forward for the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames. Jarome is one happy guy, and he’s not afraid to show it through his words, actions, and a great big smile. It is virtually impossible for a room not to light up when he walks in grinning from ear to ear after a hard workout or a well-played game. So the question arises, what makes Jarome Iginla so happy?
There are plenty of reasons.
"Every day I realize how blessed I’ve been in my life. From the time I was 7 years old, I wanted to play in the NHL, and to this day it’s awesome, it’s fun, and I realize that it’s not going to last forever. This is my eighth year in the NHL now, and it’s gone by so fast—just like life does—so I enjoy every day of it."
"When I was growing up, my mother was working, and my dad—who lived close by—was going to school. We didn’t have a lot of money and that was a big obstacle, but just as big a challenge was getting to practices and games and so on. I was very blessed to have grandparents who were great—and that helped out immensely. It was definitely a team of people that contributed to me being able to play, and not all kids have that. So I was extremely fortunate."
It was with the Blazers in 1994 that Jarome had his first taste of success on the national level when Kamloops won the Memorial Cup, Junior hockey’s most coveted prize. The next season was another milestone year for Iginla. First, the Blazers repeated as Memorial Cup champions. Then, in June, Iginla was drafted in the first round (eleventh overall) by the Dallas Stars.
Iginla would not stay a Star for long, however. In December 1995, he was traded to the Calgary Flames along with Corey Millen for fan favorite Joe Nieuwendyk.
In 1996, Iginla was the MVP of the World Junior Hockey Championships in Boston, where he led all players in scoring.
The Olympic year 2002 was a special one for Iginla. First, in February, he was a vital part of Team Canada as it captured its first gold medal in 50 years at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Returning to the NHL, Iginla continued a torrid pace that made him the leading scorer in the league. He scored 96 points on 52 goals and 44 assists. He captured both the Art Ross Scoring Trophy and the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals.
What else could possibly make Jarome smile?
The fact that he has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior has a lot to do with it. Iginla grew up in a diverse spiritual environment. His mom is a Buddhist; his dad, a Christian. He attended a Catholic school.
"Growing up I always had a faith, but it was an unclear faith. I was playing in Kamloops as a junior when I actually accepted Christ as my Savior."
"I don’t really have that one date or story that I would consider to be my testimony, but I do remember the change. When I was younger, one of my best friends and I were talking and he asked me, ‘What do you think happens when we die? Is it just black? Is it nothing? What do you think?’ I started to think about it and I got this pit of worry in my stomach. I told him, ‘Oh don’t worry, God will take care of us.’
"But deep down it really scared me. I would try to put it out of my mind, but whenever I would think about it, this empty feeling in my stomach would come back."
In times of worry and fear, people, especially kids, turn to someone they trust to help them cope with what’s bothering them. The young Kamloops Blazer star was no different.
"This feeling of fear was there for some time until I went to my dad and asked him for help. He said to me ‘Why don’t you ask Jesus to come into your life, forgive your sins, and take that feeling away? If He doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything, but if He does, look at what you’ve gained.’ So that’s what I did and to this day, that feeling in my stomach hasn’t come back."
"I don’t think it’s any harder being a Christian in the NHL compared to other leagues," said Iginla. "There are plenty of believers. Almost every team I’ve played on has had a few. I would agree that hockey players aren’t as visible as other Christian athletes, but they are there."
And they are making a difference.
Off the ice, Iginla attempts to use his fame as a hockey player to help others. "There’s a couple of groups I work with. I work with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation here in Calgary. Diabetes runs in my family, and it is close to my heart. It means a lot to me to contribute as much as I can."
"I am also involved with KidSport Calgary, which is a part of KidSport Canada. This is a great group that assists financially challenged families with funding. This allows kids to play sports that they otherwise might not be able to play due to financial limits. When I was a kid these challenges were very real to me. KidSport is not just hockey either. I believe that all sports are great for kids. I played a lot of different sports growing up, and it was a great way for me to vent all my energy. My mom always said I had too much energy," he said with that trademark smile.
Some would say, "Of course he’s smiling. If I was making millions of dollars a year playing a game, I’d be smiling like that too!" If that’s the case, then why aren’t all professional athletes that happy?
The answer is simple really. Jarome Iginla is well aware of how fortunate and blessed he is—on and off the ice. With a winning attitude, the biggest smile in the game, and a heart for God, Iginla is definitely one Calgary Flame that is burning bright.
Davin Gulbranson is a freelance writer who lives in Red Deer, Alberta.
go flames go


At 11:00 AM , Anonymous tim said...

neat. I had heard that rumored at times, but he never really brought it up in any other interviews I saw. that's encouraging in alot of ways.

still can't say I'll be cheering for the flames... However, Iggy did show how classy he was with that last game against vancouver. I get more respect for that guy every year.

At 9:23 PM , Anonymous Jarome Iginla said...

Thanks, but I could never do it without my teammates behind me, like Phaneuf, Tangs, Langks, and the gang. They make it easy for me.

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