“Bloom where you’re planted” may not be a biblical admonition, but Anne Schleper sees the spiritual implications. A member of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team and a defenseman for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Schleper sees the rink as her current mission field.
“It’s been awesome to see how God’s worked through our [national] team from my first years,” says Schleper, who played collegiately for the Golden Gophers of Minnesota, helping lead the team to the 2012 national championship her senior year.
Born out of a desire that Schleper and two others had to grow in their faith together, she started leading a Bible study for the U.S. team at training camps. Now, she and U.S. teammate Gigi Marvin -- also a former teammate at Minnesota -- lead Bible studies at tournaments and camps. Getting to this point has been quite a journey for the girl who has dreamed of the Olympics since she was eight.
Leaning on God for strength
Hockey and faith have been intertwined in Schleper’s life since childhood. She grew up in St. Cloud, Minn., in a family who believed in God and attended church, but admitted she didn’t know what that looked like personally. Her faith never really became her own until she reached college and got plugged into Athletes in Action through a few hockey teammates.
“Two of the girls had been to Ultimate Training Camp (UTC) that summer [after freshman year] and told me, ‘You have to go to this,’ and it sounded like a great deal,” recalls Schleper.
She got involved with a team Bible study that year, met staff member Alisha Kaiser, and signed up for UTC the summer after her sophomore year. At camp Schleper committed her life to Christ, and the lessons she learned there truly came into play the following season.
“I was dealing with two wrist injuries the whole year, and I was in tears after every practice and game. But my competitive nature took hold, and I refused to leave it in the hands of a higher power,” she recalls. “During [the final 20-hour physical competition called] the S.P.E.C.I.A.L., three different interns shared the same verse with me - Psalm 46:10: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ I clung to that verse the whole summer, after I was forced to take the summer off from competing to heal. I had to rely on God’s strength and knowledge, and there’s no way I could have done it without Him.
“That was a big transition time in my faith and reminded me how truly blessed I was to have the opportunity to play at that level.”
Putting The Principles into play
The rest of that summer, Schleper says Kaiser and AIA intern Kelly Claussen encouraged her and contributed to her growing spiritual maturity.
She returned to UTC as an intern in 2012, another opportunity to grow her faith while investing in other student athletes attending the camp. That experience fueled her even more as she moved into training camp for the national team that August.
“There was one game where I felt like God was so present, and I played my best game ever. It’s not that I wasn’t trying to stay true to the AIA Principles before, but I was so focused on it that game,” she says. “It was a great reminder that God is always there watching in the stands. That’s been my motivation every game since, and He rewards with great play and protection.”
Living the hockey lifestyle
As is common for young people in Minnesota, hockey became a staple of Shleper’s life early on. She started skating around age four – “In Minnesota, you learn to skate before you learn to walk,” she quips – and aspired to be a pro player as a child. At age eight, mesmerized by the opening ceremony of the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Schleper decided she’d like to be there herself someday. Fifteen years later, she was named to the U.S. national team for the 2013-14 season with a good chance of being on that Olympic squad for Sochi in 2014*.
After high school, Schleper was recruited to Minnesota, a powerhouse in women’s hockey that has picked up four national titles since the NCAA sanctioned the women’s game in 2001. The 2013 trophy capped off a perfect 41-0 season.
At age 17, she got involved with USA Hockey, playing on the first U18 world championship team and moving up to the senior team the next season. She was part of the U.S. team that earned silver at the IIHF Women’s World Championships in 2012 and gold in 2011 and 2013.
By the time she graduated a month later, Schleper had racked up accolades at the university, including the school record for career games played with 158 (she never missed a game). She ranked in the top three all-time in career points, goals and assists. She also earned All-American, All-Conference and All-WCHA honors and won the 2012 Big Ten Medal of Honor for the top senior female athlete at Minnesota.
Growing in a new game
After college, she signed with the Boston Blades, the only U.S. team in the Canadian women’s pro league. Schleper and her teammates capped off the 2013 season by winning the league’s Clarkson Cup, the first for the Blades in franchise history. The experience has grown her.
“The international game is faster and more physical. I’m able to increase my game and confidence when I play at that level all the time,” she notes, adding that with weekend games, twice weekly practices and private lessons in between, she says pretty busy.
Even with her success so far, Schleper says it is her faith and her identity as a believer in Jesus that keeps her grounded and focused.
“Any time you get in the athletic environment, it’s challenging as a Christian. It’s easy to have an ‘it’s about me’ attitude,” she admits. “That’s why it’s important to be around other Christians who can lift you up and pray for you. It’s good to stay connected, and that’s where I’ve seen those Bible studies at camps be so huge. God is opening the eyes of teammates who I would never have thought would come. He’s building it into something bigger and better.”
*At the time of printing, the final roster of the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team had not been announced.
By Teresa Young, AIA Communications
Photos: In addition to her success with the U.S. team, Schleper's pro team, the Boston Blades, won the Clarkson Cup during her rookie season (2012-2013); Anne Schleper competes with the U.S. Women's Hockey Team at the Four Nations Cup this past November in Lake Placid, N.Y. The team finished third in the tournament, which is a key step in preparation for the Winter Olympics.
(Headshot photo courtesy of USA Hockey, action photo by Nancie Battaglia)