How They Met: Pinball Clemons on the secret to 31 years of marriage

With 31 years of marriage under their belts, Argos icon Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Juno-nominated singer and motivational speaker Diane Clemons have plenty to teach about love. And this month, they’re coming together for Christmas with the Clemons — a live concert with the Clemons family and plenty of Toronto stars on Dec. 6 in support of their joint passion, the Pinball Clemons Foundation, providing marginalized youth with educational resources. They’ve shared the secret to their decades of love.

How they met

Michael: Our mutual friend Kim stopped by my house one day over the summer after my first year of university with Diane in tow. I answered the door with just shorts, no shirt, assuming it was one of my guy friends. We kept on running into each other over the course of a week, but I’m not too sure if that was by mistake, or if we both had an extra eye open. 

Diane: A good friend of mine mentioned to me that she knew an amazing guy who just happened to be an amazing athlete and lived two doors down from her.  She said she thought we’d make an amazing couple and wanted to make an introduction. When I arrived at her home she surprised me with the idea of walking over to Michael’s because the two of them were friends as well and she supposedly didn’t know where the jamboree was taking place.  At this point, I knew this was a set up! I remember her knocking on the door and I was so nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Michael answers the door with a pair of short basketball shorts and no shirt with a towel around his shoulders. Judging by the look on his face, he was not expecting us. But every day for the next week we literally ran into each other, and I don’t believe that was coincidence, I believe it was fate. 

The courtship

Diane: We dated for eight years, and during three of those years we were both in university 10 hours away from each other. We communicated through good old-fashioned handwritten letters. I remember looking forward to going to my dorm mailbox every week because I was guaranteed to have a letter or some beautiful poetry written by Michael. My girlfriend and I would drive to Williamsburg and I would go and watch him play football. Seeing him play was a whole other ordeal. I would watch all these little kids line up to get an autograph from him, and I’d think to myself, “Why?” Little did I know, nothing would change. 

The proposal

Michael: I actually proposed twice. The first time, we were in California at a Pro Athletes Outreach event with CFL and NFL players. With no ring, or anything else, on the final day, I went to her room, took her out on the balcony that looked out onto a gorgeous view, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me. She said yes, but about a month later, I “proposed” again, but this time with a ring in hand at her favourite place, the beach. 

The wedding

Michael: We got married on June 7, 1992, in our hometown of Clearwater, Florida, where we began our journey as childhood sweethearts. It was the most beautiful wedding — you could feel the love and the support from the time those church bells rang, and Diane and her mom were crossing the street into the church parking lot on a white horse and carriage. 

Diane: The legendary Don Matthews, the Argos coach at the time, gave Michael three days off, before he told him he needed to get himself back to training camp. When we finally got the chance, we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon. Two young Black kids who grew up in the projects, a stone’s throw from the railroad tracks, we never thought in our lifetime we would even have the opportunity to visit Hawaii, let alone move to Canada to start a life together. 

The kids

We have three beautiful daughters, who we love to say are our three heartbeats. Our oldest, Rachel Chantel, is 29, and she graduated from Humber with a degree in journalism. Our middle daughter, Raven Cymone, is 26 with a Bachelor of Commerce, and our youngest baby girl Rylie Camille is 21 and enjoying trying new things on her path of discovery. We are also blessed with two gorgeous granddaughters – a 19-month-old, and our brand-new precious addition who is not even a month old. 

The secret to success

So many times, people love to say a marriage is 50/50, when in actuality, some days it’ll be 30/70 or 80/20, but every day it should be the intentional act of giving your whole self, 100 per cent of the time. With all that being said, what we’ve always relied on is that thing we call love, and love simply says: you before me.

The future together

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview to life’s coming attraction.” When I think about that quote within the context of the future of our marriage in mind, we see exactly what we see today – a marriage full of love, full of hope, full of inspiration, full of philanthropy and full of faith and family. We see a life filled with what sounds like the laughter of our grandkids and looks like the joy of watching our daughters grow in happiness and success. It looks like continuing to pour into the community, while always prioritizing our relationship with each other, and our relationship with God. It looks like happiness and peace, maybe somewhere in a sunny location. It looks like road trips, Florida visits, concerts and maybe a couple of Argos football games sprinkled in the mix. 

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