Sports allow siblings to come full circle
By: Avi Saper
Evelyn Kampen will be joining the Bremen Eiche Horn in Germany this season. (FILE PHOTO)
After the Second World War, thousands of Mennonite refugees left Europe through the German port of Bremerhaven on a ship called the Folendam.
One of those refugees was the grandmother of North Kildonan residents Evelyn and Alex Kampen. She and her sisters landed in Paraguay before eventually coming to Canada to start new lives.
And now, nearly 70 years later, the story comes full circle.
Alex recently moved to Bremerhaven and his sister will soon be joining him as both play professional sports in Germany this fall and winter.
Alex, a former Selkirk Steeler in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, will be playing defence for the Fischtown Penguins of the 2nd Bundesliga.
Evelyn, a standout volleyball player for Canadian Mennonite University who won two league MVP awards, will be playing about 60 kilometres away for Bremen Eiche Horn in the Division 2 Deutsche Volleyball Bundesliga.
The brother and sister both went through the North Kildonan bilingual German program from kindergarten through Grade 12, so they expect to be able to communicate reasonably well in their new home.
The ball got rolling when Alex, 21, was approached after last season by a player rep who knew Steelers coach Ryan Smith, who played three seasons in Bremerhaven.
“I’m very thankful that I was given the opportunity here,” he said via email, “because the organization is really great and has taken care of everything in making the transition for me.”
Evelyn, who graduated from CMU as a communications major in the spring, had entertained thoughts about trying to play professionally in Europe. Once she knew where her brother would be playing, she sought out nearby teams.
“I definitely wanted to consider playing professionally,” said the 22-year-old left side. “I figured why not try it and see what happens. I’m looking forward to being able to live more independently, to figure myself out, and especially to keep playing volleyball.”
Both Kampens say the opportunities were too much to pass up, especially knowing that they would be in such close proximity to each other.
“It definitely makes a huge difference to know I have family there if anything goes wrong,” Evelyn said.
The question now will be how the level of play in their new leagues stacks up against what they’re leaving behind.
Evelyn, who played two season of CIS volleyball at Trinity Western University before transferring to CMU, is expecting CIS-quality play.
As for the Penguins, Alex has already seen his teammates in action.
“I knew the level of play was going to be high, and it surely is,” he said. “There is a lot of talent out here and lots to be learned. I’m looking forward to skating with these guys on a regular basis and developing my game.”
Since settling in last week, Alex has started to get to know his new city, which is still known for its port.
“To see the docks and some of the largest ships in the world was amazing,” he said. “It was special to know that it was the same port from which my family departed, and it’s really neat how things have come full circle back around.”