Bronco families hope first anniversary helps them to move forward

No two people impacted by the crash have had the same journey, but many are hoping that, after Saturday, their journey can continue away from the public eye

HUMBOLDT,SK--APRIL 06/2019- Celeste Leray-Leicht and Carol Brons offer thanks on behalf of the families during the Humboldt Broncos First Year Memorial service at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, SK on Saturday, April 6, 2019. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix/Liam Richards)

For the Humboldt Broncos, the last year has been one filled with landmarks.

The return to the ice. The court case. The guilty plea and sentencing. A coaching change. The one year anniversary.

As the families, team and community sought to heal from last year’s tragedy, they went past these landmarks, all under the heavy scrutiny of the public eye.

“It’s been such an unusual experience for all of us,” said Celeste Leray-Leicht, mother of Jacob Leight, one of the 16 who lost their lives in last year’s tragic crash.

“I don’t want people to be stuck. We all deserve to have a good life, and I think it’s important to recognize that. To truly honour all of the 29, we need to live our lives to the best of our abilities. Now, we need to be able to do it privately.”

Leray-Leicht was speaking about the significance of the one-year anniversary of the crash. It’s the final milestone in a year of milestones. And yet, for some, it also served as the first milestone in a new journey.

“I think for myself it’s the start of my healing,” said Carol Brons, mother of Dayna Brons, the team trainer who also died in the crash.

“This first year has been more than difficult. I really don’t feel like I’ve started healing yet. I’m hoping this will truly be the beginning of my healing.”

Saturday felt different. The arena wasn’t packed with TV networks, photographers and reporters like it had been so many times over the past year. The atmosphere was different too. It was as if the milestone of the one-year anniversary was also the part of the story leading to a quieter, more private future, a future where the one-year anniversary would serve as permission for all those impacted to move forward.

Not to forget, never to forget, but to keep on living.

 “We are able to move forward and heal together, but maybe with not so much attention on us,” team president Jamie Brockman said of the one-year anniversary.

“The organization doesn’t stop. Hopefully, we can have the opportunity o focus on what we need to as we continue to move forward.”

Leray-Leicht hopes she will have the same opportunity.

“For me, the process of preparing for today was healing. I think it needed to happen,” she said.

“Not everyone chose to be here and I respect that completely. On a personal level, the one year marks some permission to keep moving forward now.”

A reporter asked Leray-Leicht what permission means.

“It means to cry when we need to cry. It’s important to allow ourselves to do that, but it also means to allow ourselves to do those things we find value in doing,” she said.

“It’s those everyday things. To appreciate the simple things in life, like visiting with neighbours, and when you’re too tired to go do some of those things, to just go do them. But when you need rest, take the rest. I think we all get caught up in the rat race, and it allows us to take a step back and just pay attention to those things.”

Several times Saturday, the idea of moving forward was tied to the idea of hope.

For Brons and Leray-Leight, that hope comes in different forms.

“My sister’s husband passed away suddenly three years ago,” Brons said.

“She said to me as she was hugging goodbye, ‘my wish for you is your heart finds joy again.’

“That really stuck with me. Because I’m not sure. I’m hoping I find joy again.”

“One of the things that stands out in my mind is one of my lifelong friends lost a daughter to leukemia,” Leray-Leicht said.

“She told me early on, people will say life is too short. He came to the realization that life can be long too. If you’re going to have a long life, you might as well make it count.”

For Leray-Leight, making it count means not only supporting scholarships and advocating for changes that would improve highway safety but also using her background as a teacher to build stronger communities in the province’s schools.

“Some of my purpose in this is to try and draw people together,” she said.

“Kids have an incredible amount of power, and we have a lot to learn from them. I’ve learned a lot about working together. There’s power in numbers.”

Other families are moving forward in different ways. For the family of Raiders Prospect and former Regina Pat Canadians captain Adam Herold, the youngest player killed in the crash, the work on carrying on their son’s legacy has already begun.

The Adam Herold Legacy Foundation, set up to benefit rural hockey by emphasizing leadership, is working with the Pat Canadians to construct the Adam Herold Memorial Room, a haven for the team he loved.

The new room will include a coaches’ office, an equipment storage area, a therapy room, and an area with couches and video equipment. The welcoming surroundings will provide opportunities for players to gather informally or to participate in strategy sessions with the coaches.

The foundation, launched last year, extends beyond the development of hockey players, though it provides means for skill development, physical and mental training and coaching development.

“This is a way to build on Adam’s legacy, said his father, Russ Herold. “Hopefully people will remember him for a long time. He brought all of the things that you want in a teammate. He was something for other kids to look up to and to emulate.

“We’re trying to instil in the kids the importance of being a really good person, a really good teammate, and a leader.”

The Herolds aren’t the only ones focused on setting up scholarships to continue the legacy of their children.

“A lot of us … are setting up different scholarships to help with the legacy with our children,” Brons said. But that’s not all she’s doing.

“One of the biggest focuses for our group of families is to try to make the roads safer. We are both involved with that in various degrees.”

That work has included supporting a petition for nation-wide mandatory truck driver training and the buckle up for the Broncos campaign.

“Anything we can do to make the road safer, we’re trying to work towards that.”

Those conversations, that change, was something Leray-Leicht stressed when she stood at the front of the service Saturday and addressed the hundreds gathered at the arena.

‘We all have the power to create change. Please keep talking,” she said.

“Good must continue to come from this.”

— with leader-post files from Rob Vanstone.