Stenholm family utilizing hockey to overcome tragedy
Ten years ago, the Stenholm family experienced a terrible tragedy – and then a generous donation – that changed their lives forever.
Jim Stenholm, an officer with the Phoenix Police Department for over 13 years and center of calming strength in the family, passed away suddenly, leaving behind a wife and two young children. His colleagues and friends in the Arizona first responder community were committed to helping his family through this time.
The Daisy Mountain Fire Department had an idea: hockey.
It was a sport that they knew could help bring focus, community and structure to Jim’s son, Spencer, then four years old and reeling from the loss of a parent. They arranged for eight weeks of skating lessons at AZ Ice Peoria, with the rink picking up the cost.
“I used to tease his dad that Spencer could try any sport his dad he liked, but that Spencer would end up liking my favorite sport, hockey, best,” said Rebecca Stenholm, Spencer’s mother. “The rink was a fresh start, a place where we didn’t already have memories. We – Spencer, his sister, Avery, and me – could start writing whatever that next chapter was going to be.”
This season, Spencer plays for two Mission AZ teams – with his age group on the Bantam Red team and up a level with the 16U White team.
“I love the chance I get to be part of a team, and the community I am part of,” said Spencer. “Hockey is an amazing community of people, no matter which team you play for. I get to play with a group of friends who really work hard and it’s like being part of a big family. I also have friends on other teams, so it’s like having an even bigger family. It’s something really special and I get to be a part of that.”
Rebecca remembered an occasion where hockey helped turn a negative into a positive.
“Spencer was a Mite and playing in the house league,” she said. “It had been a bad day for all of us – we were already late for practice, and a glove was missing. (Mission director of hockey operations) Jeremy Goltz didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him, but he stopped what he was doing to find an unopened pair of gloves in the Mission room just so Spencer could get on the ice that night. Moments like that are, to me, what it means to be part of the hockey community.”
Last summer, Spencer was selected to represent Arizona at the Western Regional High Performance Development Camp in Colorado Springs, an “amazing opportunity,” he said.
“I got to see all of the opportunities that are out there and play with some of the best players in the country in my age group,” said Spencer. “I’d like another opportunity like that next summer. Long term, I want to go as far as I can in hockey. I’d like to make a Tier I or Tier II junior team and hopefully get the chance to play for a Division I school in college. I also look at academics – I’m interested in engineering and law enforcement.”
As for watching her son grow and develop and excel at a sport he is passionate about, all while using the game to find happiness again, Rebecca puts it best: “The rink has been so much more than ice. It’s a place where we had the space to hurt, the space and time to recover, and it helped shape our new chapter. Lots of kids love hockey, but it has been so much more than a game for Spencer.”
“There have been a couple of times when I’ve felt my dad was watching me while I was on the ice, but I like to think he is always watching over me and my sister,” added Spencer. “Whether it’s hockey or something else like riding a bike (one of his favorite hobbies), I know he’s there.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Dec. 24, 2018)