Six hours and 13 minutes.
That’s how long it took Luke Reimer to drive into a new life. The 17-year-old’s only companions were his thoughts and as many personal belongings as he could stuff into his pickup truck. His friends, teammates and coaches fell farther into the past with each passing mile.
One day before the first official practice at Lincoln North Star, Reimer made that drive from Ashland, Kansas, population 807, to Lincoln, population 280,364.
When he got out of his pickup, he stepped into a new world.
Reimer is the youngest of seven siblings. His sister, Christina, and brother-in-law, Brian, live in Lincoln with their two young children. Adding a high schooler could have been hard, but Reimer isn’t your typical teenager.
He’s the kind of kid who actually makes things easy. He learned that from his dad.
Wes Reimer showed up to work every day. A youth-group leader and business owner, he prided himself on providing for his wife and seven kids.
Christmas Eve at the Reimer house in Ashland always meant family gatherings, gifts and pumpkin pie. Christmas Eve 2014 was different.
Wes and Karen Reimer had to tell the kids — Kristina, Michael, Andrew, Joanna, Kara, Nathan and Luke — that Wes had stage four pancreatic cancer.
Time moves fast, Luke was about to find out. With a diagnosis like that, it moves even faster.
Andrew, a pilot, flew Wes to and from Houston for cancer treatments at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Between flights, there were two-hour round-trip drives for treatments in Dodge City. Still, in less than three months, Wes’ cancer quickly progressed.
Ashland’s opening game of the 2015 state basketball tournament was March 12. Nathan didn’t want to go.
“My dad told him to go,” Kristina said. “We are a family of athletes and in Ashland making the tournament was a big deal for our small town.”
The message from Wes: When it’s time to take action, man up and take care of business.
Nathan played and Wes listened on the radio from home. The Bluejays lost by three points in the final seconds.
“Dad was always the loudest person in the stands for all of us,” Kristina said. “At all events, basketball, track, football, tennis and cross country. He was 100 percent invested.”
It was the last sporting event Wes would be a part of for one of his children. He died March 16.
A big move
Luke was the last child still at home. It was him and his mom in the house he’d grown up in with all those brothers and sisters.
“Luke has always dreaded being the only one at home,” Kristina said. “He prefers being around people.”
The decision was made for Luke to move to Lincoln.
Luke, entering his junior year, made that drive to a new city, just in time for football practice at a high school that had more students than the town where he grew up. Things were going to be different.
“It was a hard decision for my mom and Luke,” Kristina said. “The people of Ashland have done so much for our family.”
Garth Gardiner watched Luke grow up and was his basketball coach since seventh grade. He understands how big of a transition Luke is making.
“He comes from an incredibly close and supportive family who has seen their share of challenges in their lives,” Gardiner said. “Their father was a strong man, a godly man and he would be proud of how they have all matured and handled life without him leading their family. ... I know I sure am.”
Karen helped ease Luke’s transition by traveling regularly between Lincoln and Ashland. She fills her days taking care of her ill father and keeping track of the family construction business and managing some farmland near Meade, Kansas. Luke spent the fall helping out around his new home in between football practices and games.
They take care of business.
‘Football is football’
Ashland played eight-man football this season and will move to six-man in 2018. North Star plays in Nebraska’s largest class.
“Football is football,” Luke said. “I didn’t notice a big adjustment besides more people on the field.”
In fact, there was little adjustment. Luke played three positions on offense. He started out at receiver, played some running back and then quarterback by the middle of the season after the regular starter broke his collarbone. On defense, he was second on the team in tackles from his safety and outside linebacker spot.
Football seemed to be an easy transition. The size of school, well ...
Ashland has 60 students. Lincoln North Star has more than 1,600. “The school adjustment has been the hardest,” Luke said.
He credits his youth group at his church, North Pointe Community, with aiding in the transition. Brian is a youth-group leader there and Kristina is active in the church.
“Luke was active in youth group in Ashland and my dad being a youth-group leader there helped,” Kristina said. “Our church has really helped him find new friends and adjust to a new city.”
Runs in the family
Athletic ability is a Reimer family trait.
Michael ran track at Kansas State, Kara ran cross country at Kansas Wesleyan. The brothers played basketball in high school. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and with a year left in high school, Luke is garnering attention from Power Five football schools.
“He’s got great ball skills, he’s explosive with good speed and just has that ability to make plays after the catch,” North Star coach Mark Waller said. “He returned punts and kickoffs, one of our best players on defense, really a tough young man who is able to make a lot of plays.”
Luke made an unofficial visit to Kansas State for the Oklahoma game two weeks ago.
“Kansas State’s facilities were top of the line,” he said. “Meeting the coaches was fun and seeing how big, fast and athletic players are at that level gives you a different perspective.”
He also made an unofficial visit to Nebraska for Saturday’s game against Northwestern.
“The visit was a really cool experience and the atmosphere was incredible,” he said. “Being on the field was also pretty cool.”
Much like his brothers, Luke likely will be a factor on the basketball court this season for the Navigators. He averaged 19.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season in Ashland.
“I’m looking forward to basketball season,” he said. “I’ve been to a few workouts and I think we have a really good team.”
If he eventually lands an offer to college and gets to make another long drive to some faraway destination, it won’t be hard. He’s survived that before. And he’s thrived.