Grounded in gratitude: How Liberty hockey’s Kam Ottenbreit finds daily inspiration in the hearts of his parents
Raising a hockey player in the game is no easy feat. Any hockey parent can attest to the cost of equipment, travel and energy it takes to provide their player with the tools for success. But what about raising a hockey player, a gymnast and three adopted children? Welcome to the Ottenbreit family.
Liberty hockey forward Kam Ottenbreit’s childhood was unconventional. But, like most college hockey players, it was immersed in love for the game.
“He was a natural,” Kari Ottenbreit, Kam’s mother, said. “He literally stood up — I’m not kidding — at 3 years old and just skated.”
The natural hockey knack he possessed didn’t come out of left field. Kam’s dad, Mark Ottenbreit, had an impressive career as a hockey player himself. He spent his initial college years skating for the University of Illinois-Chicago before spending some time on the ice for the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
And while having a dad with a wealth of knowledge in his craft came to the benefit of Kam, it took a bit of time before the Michigan native realized the value of his dad’s experience.
“As he got older, he understood,” Mark said. “As it got tougher for him to play hockey and he progressed in his career and saw the level that I played at, he realized, ‘I think my dad might know a little bit about what he’s talking about.’”
But while hockey was a staple of the Ottenbreit household, Kam’s childhood involved much more than days spent at the rink.
Shortly after he was born in Grosse Ile, Michigan, a calling began to weigh heavy on his mother’s mind.
“After I had Kam, I didn’t think I could have any more children. I started looking into adoption,” Kari said. “Once I started looking into it, I just could not get it out of my head. When (Janie) was a month old, I told Mark, ‘Hey, you know the adoption thing? I know we have an infant, but we really need to adopt.’ I definitely felt God’s calling with that.”
While the feeling was strong, Mark still needed time to think through the life-changing decision. He told her that he would pray over the circumstances and let her know in time.
“A month later, (Mark) came in the door with flowers, and Kam came up to me and said, ‘Dad says start the adoption process,’” Kari said.
When Kam was 3 years old and Janie was 4 months old, the family took its first trip to China to welcome Thea to their family, whose name means “gift from God.” The trip was the first of three taken to China, and soon, Benjamin and Eva would also become Ottenbreits.
“I have very unique, wonderful stories with all three of my children. … It would take too long to explain them all,” Kari said.
The adjustment for young children taking on a new life on a different continent, however, came with its hardships. When Kam looks back, he recounts times when the adaptation took a toll on both him and his siblings.
“My oldest sister, the last one that we had adopted, was about 7 at the time,” Kam said. “I know a really big struggle for my parents was trying to figure out if we should bring in a child who already has these memories, and it’s going to be much more difficult. She would stand at the window, arms crossed. She didn’t speak English. … We were both 7. We both want the attention.”
But since neither child spoke the other’s language, they would communicate in facial expressions, making their frustration with each other apparent.
Over a decade later, Kam laughs at the memories, considering how close he, his sister Eva and his entire family have become. And while Kam is following in his father’s footsteps by playing college hockey, he’s not the only Ottenbreit who took on the title of student-athlete. Janie is a D1 gymnast at the Air Force Academy, and Eva is a freshman sailor at the Naval Academy.
Kari and Mark’s weekends consist of driving from Michigan to Lynchburg to watch Kam take the ice with the Flames before heading to Annapolis to visit Eva. Other weekends, though, are reserved to head the opposite direction to visit Janie in Colorado.
“I have no idea how my parents did it all when we were growing up. I know they would keep (adopting) if they could,” Kam said.
The dedication and heart displayed in his parents’ lives have transformed the now 24-year-old Kam. He’s been on his own for quite some time now, but his mind remains grounded in gratitude for the two people he says “inspire him most in life.”
“This past year probably is the time he’s shown the most that he’s grateful for us,” Kari said. “I don’t want to say he never showed that, but as he’s matured, it’s like he’s been watching and not really saying anything. I think it makes you realize the impact and how important it is because while we didn’t know he was watching, he was watching. And now he talks about his appreciation a lot.”
And while Kam’s passion for being a difference-maker has been clear in his three seasons on the ice with Liberty hockey, his ambitions stretch far beyond the rink.
“I’ve always said I want to make a ton of money. Not necessarily in a selfish way, but I want to make a ton of money so that I can help people and be able to afford mission trips,” Kam said. “They’re not easy to just get on and go. You have to raise money; you have to be able to go. My parents donate a lot of their time and money to different aspects like that, and I want to do that too.”
Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X