“My dad’s example has always meant a lot to me in following my faith.” – Jarome Iginla
When the Calgary Flames finished their 2007-08 regular season with a convincing 7-1 thumping of the golf course bound Vancouver Canucks, Flames’ centre Jarome Iginla once again demonstrated why he is held in such high regard by hockey enthusiasts worldwide.
That night the team captain added a statistical exclamation point to his 12th year with the Flames by scoring his 50th goal of the season, thereby affirming his current status as one of the game’s most dominant players. However, it was what “Iggy” did immediately following regulation time that reveals why he has earned and retained the esteem of teammates and opponents alike.
After the final buzzer sounded, Iginla corralled and led his teammates over to Vancouver veteran Trevor Linden to exchange handshakes and pats on the head. The game was likely the last NHL tilt for Linden who holds the franchise record for the most games ever played in a Canucks’ uniform.
“The outpouring of appreciation from the fans for Trevor’s achievements was awesome,” Flames’ defenseman Adrian Aucoin, an ex-Canuck, later observed. “But I think it was even cooler when Iggy called all the guys back to give Linden a handshake because you don’t see that kind of thing too often.”
Aucoin aptly articulated what loyal Flames’ watchers and NHL fans around the world have known for some time now. On the ice or off, Jarome Iginla is a class act!
It’s welcome news to sports fans accustomed to hearing about the booze-filled, womanizing, after-hours antics of youthful athletic millionaires. So much so, in fact, that The Canadian Encyclopedia (Historica) suggests: “…the sports world is starving for guys like Iginla. The people who buy tickets and jerseys invest a lot of emotion in the migrant millionaires who play for the home teams, and it hurts when their heroes turn out to be zeroes. So fans, kids especially, connect with Iginla.”
Ironically, “Iggy”—as he’s known to the faithful—has so endeared himself to Calgarians that most residents of The Stampede City have long since forgotten or at least forgiven their hero for the fact that he was born and raised in the Edmonton area, home of the archrival Edmonton Oilers.
And they don’t even really seem to mind that the man Iginla largely credits with enabling him to become the outstanding role model he is today is an Edmonton lawyer.
Meet Elvis Iginla, Jarome’s father.
How Nigeria came to the NHL
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, the elder of the Iginlamen came to Canada in 1976 at the age of 19 in search of a university education. Shortly thereafter he married Susan Schuchard, a Caucasian-American who gave birth to Jarome in 1977.
Although his parents believed in God and encouraged Elvis to do the same, he does not describe his upbringing as Christian. Not long after beginning studies in philosophy at the University of Alberta, he says, he realized that he really couldn’t say with his own conscience that he knew who God was.
“I wasn’t happy with the way my life was going at the time,” Iginla states. “I often found my thoughts turning to God with the recognition that I was truly searching for him.” Highly motivated to answer his own questions concerning matters divine, the newcomer to Canada went for a long walk one day during which he advised God of his spiritual restlessness.
“God,” Iginla confessed, “I’m sorry, but I’m not even sure you exist—even though I’ve always believed in you. Nevertheless, if you can hear me, I would really like to know you.”
The aspiring philosopher returned from that walk with a resolute confidence that God did in fact exist. He recalls asking God to take his life and mold it according to His divine purposes. “To be honest,” Elvis chuckles softly, “I was quite fearful God was going to ask me to do something I really didn’t want to do. In any event, from that moment on until now, I have always maintained a very firm belief in God.”
Iginla followed up on his conviction by visiting a nearby church where he was introduced to the concept of Bible study. Believing the Bible to be the Word of God, Elvis says he made up his mind to read it from cover to cover.
The Old Testament left him cold.
“Looking back,” he reports, “I realize I’d adopted some fairly strong preconceptions as to what God is like—all-knowing, all-powerful, all-compassionate and so on. Subsequently, when I came across passages in the Old Testament where God killed innocent people or where Moses convinced God to change his mind and not destroy the Israelites, I found such ideas very difficult to accept.”
About that time he changed the focus of his university studies from philosophy to psychology. Still, Iginla says he struggled with reconciling some of what he read with the skills he was developing in critical thinking. He was therefore pleased that the Jesus he encountered in reading the New Testament enabled him to get a better grasp on much of what the Old Testament contains.
“That Jesus was the revelation of God and makes possible our relationship with God became the cornerstone of my faith,” Elvis testifies.
Elvis’s role in Jarome’s life
Although his marriage to Schuchard ended in divorce when Jarome was two-years-old, the amiable nature of his relationship with his ex-wife allowed Elvis to maintain a strong profile in the future Calgary Flame’s development as a youngman.
“Jarome was a very good child,” Elvis boasts, “not demanding, easy to get along with, easy to teach. And he loved to learn.” Because the elder Iginla spent considerable time with Jarome during the latter’s youth, it was not surprising when Jarome developed many of the same interests that captivated his father. This helped create the very close bond the two men share today.
“Jarome’s nature is much the same as mine,” Elvis explains. “He always wants to discover and learn, not just about hockey but about God and life in general. He is a very spiritual guy. I recall when he was about five years old he asked if I knew where God was, before pointing to his heart. Jarome has always had the faith of a child, yet it’s an unwavering faith and rock solid.”
Rock solid, like Jarome’s fists on the noggin of an opponent when the Flames’ leader decides it’s necessary to try and light a fire under his charges.
Elvis laughs at the comparison, and then observes that professional sports were not common in Nigeria. “My mother discouraged me from getting involved in sports because she saw it as a distraction from attending university,” he explains. “I always looked at Jarome’s athletics as more of a hobby, until he was drafted and I realized he could make a very good living playing hockey.”
As for Elvis’s latent questions about the Old Testament and other aspects of theology, following his graduation (B.A. Hons.) in psychology in 1983, he took a couple of years to study theology before moving on to law school. Enrolling in courses at Edmonton’s Newman Theological College (a Catholic school affiliated with the University of Alberta) and North American Baptist College (now Taylor University College), Iginla addressed his thirst for knowledge of Christ.
He subsequently wrote a book entitled Confound Not the Wise: Questions and answers for Christianity (Jade & Green Publications, 2005).
His studies coincided with the period in Jarome’s life where the young athlete was making decisions that would eventually determine his career.
“I’ve always told Jarome that regardless of what one does for a living, there is no substitute in life for developing a godly character,” Elvis indicates. “Accordingly, although Jarome is certainly carving a niche for himself in terms of his hockey career, what means more than anything to me is to hear that his word is as good as gold; that he’s a loving husband to Kara who [at the time was] expecting their third child, and is a responsible father to Jade and Tij.”
Jarome’s proud appreciation of his father
The Calgary Flames were engaged in a nail-biter first-round playoff series with the San Jose Sharks at the time this story was being written. As the Flames’ on-ice leader, Jarome was understandably and rightly focused 110 per cent on setting the pace for the underdogs in giving the Sharks all they could handle.
Nonetheless, it speaks volumes concerning his deep love and respect for Elvis that the busy hockey hero made time to share his thoughts with [us] regarding their relationship. “My dad’s example has always meant a lot to me in following my faith,” he stated. “When I have questions about God or my Christian faith, my dad is always there for me. That’s not to say that we agree on everything we discuss,” he adds thoughtfully. “But our conversations about matters of faith invariably end with our encouraging one another to pray about it.
“I see my dad as someone who’s very concerned with having a positive influence in the lives of people around him, whether he’s at work or at home,” Jarome says. “I’m very proud of that and try to follow his example in the way I live!”