My son was a Humboldt Bronco. I honour his memory by trying to make my community better

by - 7 min read

My son was a Humboldt Bronco. I honour his memory by trying to make my community better

by - 7 min read

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I had the dream life. I married my best friend and after six years, we were blessed with the birth of our first child — our daughter Erin. Three years later, our son Adam was born. We lived and worked on the same farm as my father and grandfather and just miles from many members of our extended family.

As the kids grew up, we supported them through their various academic and sports activities, travelling the province and sometimes beyond to attend different events, games and tournaments.

When seeding was over each spring, the four of us headed to the lake for family time. Our kids were not only siblings, but they were the best of friends and loved spending time together on the farm, at the lake or wherever life took us.

On April 6, 2018, our lives changed forever. Our son Adam was the youngest player killed in the Humboldt bus crash. He died just six days before his 17th birthday.

Just like that, everything changed.

Everything.

Russell Herold had hoped his son Adam would take over the family farm one day. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

Those first days and weeks were a blur. From the frantic, high speed drive to Tisdale, Sask. that evening after we first heard about the accident to identifying Adam’s body the next day and then planning a funeral to take place one day after Adam’s 17th birthday, my dream life turned into a nightmare with zero warning.

For a long while, we stayed pretty close to home, unable to do simple things like go for groceries, pick up mail or run to town for errands.

Humboldt Broncos’ Adam Herold’s father Russell receives a hug as friends and family celebrate what would have been Adam’s 17th birthday in Montmartre, Sask. on Thursday, April 12, 2018. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

People line-up down the block at Mortmartre School for the funeral for Adam Herold in Montmartre, Sask., on Friday April 13, 2018. The 16-year-old Humboldt Broncos hockey player was killed in a bus crash on April 6 near Tisdale, Sask. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Our daughter Erin moved back home and could not complete her final exams at university as scheduled.

Our days were filled with tears and anguish as we spent hours reading cards and handwritten letters sent to us from people around the world. We dealt with practicalities like life insurance and designing a headstone for our son’s grave.

We had a steady stream of visitors to the farm every day, and neighbours from the area took turns bringing us a hot supper each night for months.

The media attention following the crash was intense and widespread and I agreed to dozens and dozens of interviews from local, provincial and national reporters. It was definitely outside my normal comfort zone and many people have said they don’t understand how or why I would do these interviews when I was grieving so much.

Hockey sticks and a pair of skates are seen outside the front door of a home in Montmartre, Sask., hometown of Humboldt Broncos’ Adam Herold. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

My answer was simple — no matter how difficult it was for me to do so, I wanted to take whatever opportunity I could to tell people all about Adam and what a great person he was.

Adam was smart and kind. He was a hard worker on the farm, in school and on the ice. He was a kid who could talk to young and old people alike and always made you feel at ease. Like many teenagers, he loved video games and spent hours playing online with his best friends.

Adam Herold was the third generation growing up on his family farm near Montmartre, Sask. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

He was also a champion perogy dough roller, joining his large extended family for their annual perogy making day every fall.

Adam loved nature and the outdoors, whether it was gardening, waterskiing, boating, quadding, snowmobiling or hunting. He was fiercely loyal, loved his family and friends and was always willing to help others.

And of course he loved hockey.

This is one of Russell and Raelene Herold’s favourite pictures of their son Adam. It was taken after he won a champion. They say it exemplifies exactly who he was. He was the captain of his hockey team, and it shows him carrying everyone’s jerseys and Gatorade bottles with his medal tucked away. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

That love was sparked from the time he laced up his skates at age two and continued to grow throughout his short life. As his hockey career progressed, he focused on his nutrition, fitness and hockey skills while also maintaining high grades at school. He served as captain for almost every team he played with during his minor hockey career.

Adam moved away from home at age 15, moving to the city, going to a new school and living with a billet family. It was a lot of change and pressure for him but he viewed it as another step toward his goal of being the best player he could be en route to hopefully making it to the NHL one day. He did all of this because he wanted his dream so badly, not because we pressured him.

And whether it was going to be the NHL or maybe university hockey, Adam’s sights were set on returning to run the family farm once his hockey career was over.

‘Grief and heartache’

Until April 6, 2018 when everything changed.

As we near the one-year anniversary of Adam’s death, our days continue to be filled with grief and heartache. We think of Adam every day, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

I don’t think that will ever change. 

Instead of making daily trips to the city or to rinks around the province for Adam’s hockey games, we’re making trips to see grief counsellors, attend jersey retirement ceremonies and meeting with our lawyers and financial advisors to determine the long term future of our family farm. Realistically, that future is likely quite short.

Our daughter Erin will soon complete her business degree with plans to pursue a career in that field, not to return home for a life of farming.

My wife Raelene and I will likely continue to plant crops for a few more years, but beyond that we’re not sure. We never really contemplated a life different than this.  

Like all of the families impacted by the accident, we have endured months and months of court proceedings and adjournments and most recently, a gut-wrenching week of victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing in Melfort.

Despite all our grief and sorrow, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how thankful and humbled we feel to have received so much love and support from our friends, family and complete strangers, not only from Saskatchewan but also from beyond our borders. That support continues today and I don’t think we could ever find the words to express just how much the overwhelming kindness has meant to the three of us and to our extended family.  

Legacy foundation

All the support and encouragement inspired us to establish the Adam Herold Legacy Foundation.

The idea came soon after Adam’s funeral.  Family, friends and others in the hockey community wanted to find a way to keep Adam’s memory alive — a way to honour him by helping others and making a positive contribution in our communities and our province.

The foundation provides opportunities for Saskatchewan youth to develop and refine not only their hockey skills, but also their leadership potential. The goal is simple: to build better hockey players and, more importantly, to nurture and support strong community-minded leaders — just like Adam.

Humboldt Broncos’ Adam Herold’s snowmobile and helmet are seen on the family farm as friends and family gather to mourn Adam’s death but celebrate what would have been his 17th birthday in Montmartre, Sask. on Thursday, April 12, 2018. The Herold family has since built “Adam’s shack” near the farm which is open to all snowmobilers who want to stop and warm up when on the trails. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Parents, coaches and community leaders have told us about positive changes they’ve seen in players. These are the results we were hoping for. It’s a reflection of the kind of young man Adam was during his short life. Yes, he was a talented athlete. But he was so much more. He was smart, humble, hard-working, kind and was always willing to help others. And he did so quietly, without looking for thanks or recognition but rather because he could help and it was the right thing to do.

While we continue to miss Adam every single day – that won’t change — we are hopeful the work we do will help inspire other youth to work just a bit harder and be a bit kinder no matter where their futures take them. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, rich or poor, an athlete or not — we all have the ability to make a positive difference in our communities.

While I find myself dreading the anniversary of the crash, I am trying my best to instead remember and focus on all of the happy memories we had with Adam and am thankful for all of the support we have received since his death. Life is short — love your friends and family, be good to one another and do your best to make the world a better place, just like Adam did.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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