It’s Okay to not be Okay

Hello, my name is Tyler Smith. I am from Leduc, Alberta and am a survivor of the April 6th, 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash. First, I’m going to tell you a bit about myself. Ever since I was young, sport has been a very dominant aspect of my life and has ultimately shaped me into the person I am today. My usual yearly schedule would involve hockey from August to April, lacrosse from May to July and then golf from May to September, so needless to say I kept myself busy. I also kept my lovely parents busy with the amount of driving and supporting, which they were always happy to do. Whether it be going from a highly intense lacrosse game to a nice relaxing round of golf with friends, I will always appreciate the opportunities I had and the connections I made in sports.

Fast forward to 2018 where I was ready for my second year of Junior A hockey in the town of Drayton Valley, Alberta. I came into training camp looking forward to a new fresh year with the team but little did I know I was on the way out. After getting called into the office and being told I was going to get traded away from the organization to somewhere that was not necessarily on my list of places I would like to go, I was in fight or flight mode. As a junior hockey player in Canada you know that if you are being dealt to another organization, it’s not always the best feeling in the world. I came out of that room in disbelief and in shock. I called my parents and had to quickly regroup to figure out the next step from here. Not having a huge desire to end up in the place they had set out for me left me with the simple, yet difficult, act of calling every coach I could in order to try to find myself a spot to play.

Because I have been playing hockey since I was four years old, I have a certain sense of knowing about the kind of hockey player I am and what kind of hockey person as well. I knew as soon as I stepped foot into junior hockey I wasn’t going to score fifty goals or be on first line powerplay and that was okay with me. I accepted my role as a player who can play both ends of the ice and also be that glue inside the dressing room that helps everyone enjoy the time spent with one another. Now, back to my next step toward my future junior hockey career. After calling numerous coaches around Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, I was starting to lose faith.

It was starting to get closer to the middle of October which meant many coaches were already set on the roster they had. This left me in a tough spot.

My brother’s best friend spent three years in the town of Humboldt, Saskatchewan playing for the Broncos. After a couple messages between him and I, there I was calling Humboldt’s head coach, Darcy Haugan, and praying for good news on the other end. Coaches of junior hockey know what they want for their team dynamic and ultimately find players to work around that. Darcy was the first coach after many fruitless phone calls to accept my plea and give me one last shot at junior hockey.

Humboldt is six hours away from Leduc and I most definitely did not have a set spot on the roster. After packing my car full of clothes and belongings so I was ready for the possibility of staying, I was on my way. The first practice came and went and let’s just say I was a bit exhausted after not being able to practice with a team for some time. Even with me laying on the bench gasping for air, Coach Darcy saw something in me which lead me to finding my new home. Being a guy who loves the dressing room atmosphere, I like to think I’m pretty good at judging a team’s overall dynamic and character right off the hop and let me tell you, this team was special. It was only a few days in with a whole new team and I was already feeling the sense of pure joy and gratefulness from every player to be there and to put on the Bronco logo. This feeling I got was all thanks to Darcy and his coaching staff; he was a coach who not only brought in good hockey players but also really good people.

Hopefully you’re all still with me. We are a few days after the accident, and I’m waking up in the hospital. I had no idea what was going on. Not having any memory of that day or the few days that followed led me to eventually having some questions for my family, but with a total of eight injuries from the crash I was in no shape to grasp everything that happened because of the pain medication I was on. A couple surgeries and thirteen days in hospital later, I was on my way back to Leduc. Recovery began with many days cooped up in my house taking my medication, going to physiotherapy, heading to doctor’s appointments after doctor’s appointments just wanting to get back to my normal state physically and also mentally which I knew was going to quite possibly never happen after that day.

As a 20-year-old kid you never expect anything in your life like that to take place, let alone be a part of it. There was no way to prepare for something of that magnitude because the bus is your safe haven as a hockey player. The bus is a place for laughs with the team and making many good memories that can now only be cherished from photos and videos. But now being on a bus is forever associated with the day that shook the nation, a day no one saw coming, and a day that I will never forget. Sixteen of the people I spent close to everyday with are now no longer here. Thirteen of my teammates left being survivors of the Humboldt bus crash not knowing what comes next after something that will never make sense to any of us.

The question of ‘why’ will forever linger in all of our minds. Why us? Why would this happen? Why that day? Questions that will never have answers. Many people have asked me, “How do you do it?” and unfortunately I do not have an answer to that simple question. I give many thanks to the support from people across the country but also the world. And I give full credit to the constant support from my family, friends and teammates who are fighting this everyday battle with me. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed or to want to do anything because at the end of the day we lost sixteen amazing people and it’s hard to grasp why they were taken from us.

I find that bouncing back is an everyday process. I can’t jump ahead thinking everything will be healed and normal in a couple weeks because, quite frankly, I think it’s next to impossible to completely heal mentally from something like this. But I believe I do know one thing, those that are no longer here with us would want my teammates and me to get back to as normal as we can. They are watching over us and sometimes it’s hard to know that, so you just have to believe.

As a team we always had each other’s backs no matter who was feeling down or needed a quick lift. I think a big thing we always remembered was to go back to, “It’s a great day to be a Bronco.” We all firmly believed that, so whoever needed to hear it, or be reminded of it, was definitely taken care of by fellow teammates. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a specific time or place where I can remember it coming into my mind that they were watching over me. I more just believe that every day. It’s important to me to have that belief and feel that connection from up above, so wherever I may be I try to remember what they would want me to do or how they would want me to feel. I find a little look up to the sky or a quick chat with them helps me regroup and start fresh if something isn’t going my way.

With the accident came a lot of physical struggles but also many mental struggles. Since April 6th, I’ve slowly come to learn more and more how important mental health is. I was always somebody who hashtagged Bell Let’s Talk on that day, but didn’t understand the full meaning of mental health and how much it can affect you. If you’re that person who struggles to put yourself first and talk about what needs to be talked about, then trust me when I say this, I’ve been in your shoes. I was always the one welcoming other people’s problems into my life to try and help the best I could to make sure that individual was doing okay and felt cared for. But after hiding from my mental health problems and pushing them to the back burner, I realized how important it is to open up and put myself first or else a rapid downhill spiral could occur. Talking to somebody and realizing that people are here to help allowed me start getting back to my normal personality without having to hide things.

One of the toughest lessons I learned is that it’s okay to not be okay. Moving forward will consist of good days but also bad. My perspective on life has altered and so has my view on mental health.

If I can give one piece of advice to anyone from all of this, it’s that you have to be willing to open up when you aren’t doing so hot. Life is very short and I know that that’s a cliché, but it really is, so take advantage of the time you have and be grateful for the people around you. The people you surround yourself with is who you will create those memories with. I took the memories for granted before, but now I realize that memories may all you have left to hold onto.

I will never be able to tell you how to grieve or how to heal or how to recover because another major lesson I have also learned is that everybody heals differently. The way you heal is a different journey and also shows you that there truly is no right or wrong way to heal from tragedy. One step at a time, one day at a time, one lesson at a time. Everything I experienced was pretty much brand new to me. I found out the hard way that being a part of a tragedy of this extent can take a very big toll on you and taking care of yourself is something you must realize and do before it’s too late.

From my story you got to know a little bit about me, and, like most people you may be curious to know about how am I doing. To answer that question all I can say is: I’m doing okay. I truly miss every person I lost more than anyone will ever know and I would do anything to change that day or be able to say goodbye to each one of them, because not being able to say goodbye is one of the hardest things of it all to grasp. I want to personally thank all the people who left a stick outside their door or supported in any possible way. You all have filled my family’s heart with love when we didn’t have much left. The way events in our world transpire will sometimes never make sense, but it’s important to take the time you need for yourself, take care of yourself, and to find those people who make you feel okay when you are not okay. Life is short, be grateful for what you have and who you have. Thank you for reading.