Tyler Smith has gone from tragedy to helping others

Injured in Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Tyler Smith now helps others overcome grief

January 29, 2024, 9:58 am
Ashley Bochek

<b>From tragedy to helping others</b> Tyler Smith went through the trauma of losing friends in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, and is now dedicating his life to helping others overcome trauma. He and his fiancé Kat, seen with him here, won Season 9 of Amazing Race Canada in 2023.

April 6, 2018 is the day Tyler Smith’s life changed forever. That was the day of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Tyler went through that tragedy and the loss of many friends, and is now a public speaker sharing his story at events to advocate for mental health and help others overcome trauma.

Tyler was a key speaker at The More Joy event in Regina on January 24. The World-Spectator’s Ashley Bochek spoke with him about his journey. The full interview follows:

How big of an impact did the Humboldt bus crash have on your life?
Obviously, it is a day I think about every day, and a day I will think about for the rest of my life. It has made me grow up quickly. I think any time you go through events like that, or trauma in your life, it is easy to get caught in that hole, but it is important to remember there is a lot of perspective that comes along with it.

It is the classic cliché to be kind and tell your loved ones that you love them and all those things, but it really is true. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so remembering to love and remembering as much as you can to hold on to the hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel are important. I know there have been a lot of dark days for a lot of humans in this world over the past couple of years.

For me, that day, April 6, 2018, is a day that shaped me and is a day that led me to doing what I do now. It all stems back to how incredible that team was and the foundation we were able to create as a team. A big reason I am the person I am today is honestly because of that team and the values we had and the belief we had in each other.

What do you do now?
I like dipping my toes in a bunch of different waters. Public speaking has been the prominent thing in my life lately. I was in Regina, Lloydminster, Fairview, and Fox Creek last week, speaking to a variety of farming equipment suppliers, communities, and high schools. Public speaking is my main thing right now and is something that I am passionate about. The conversations that happen after always seem to draw me back to public speaking, holding onto that hope that there will be a lot of meaningful conversations facilitated by my talks. I don’t have any training in public speaking, I just started in it and I’ve been fortunate to do over 150 speaking engagements now, so it has been incredible in a way, but you also have to make sure you are taking care of yourself. It has been important for me to find that balance.

I coach a little hockey in Calgary, I have a little clothing line, and I have been able to do a podcast with a guy who plays in the NHL. Honestly, however I can make an impact, I am happy to get on board.

How different are your priorities now than they were before April 6, 2018. How have they changed?
It has been six years and it has allowed me a lot of time to figure out what is next and figure out how I want to move forward, but I am still definitely a take it one day at a time kind of guy. I know that people long for community, and people especially long for a community in an uncomfortable space like mental health.

Mental health never used to be a priority for me but now I appreciate the balance and relationship you need to have with your mental, emotional, and physical health. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that there is a lot of power in stories, and a priority of mine is sharing my story.

I also understand that everybody in this world has a story and I think being able to get to a place and shape your perspective around that story, where you remember that everybody in your life is fighting something you possibly have no idea about. So being able to find that balance of being able to take care of yourself, but also being that same supportive friend to your loved ones as well and creating that space and that atmosphere that people want to be a part of is a priority of mine lately.

How did you begin to move on from that day?
I originally thought that I was just going to move on, but now I have found a way to move forward with it. I did a speech last week in Lloydminster and Dr. Jody Carrington said, ‘being able to acknowledge is something we all want to do’ and I think for me acknowledging that hopefully my talk and sharing my story will help the mental and emotional side of things, but also make people never forget about that day and never forget about the people we lost that day.

That is something that still fuels a lot of my purpose for public speaking. It is essentially keeping those legacies alive, and I think that is the best way to move forward, with myself doing what I need to do and staying connected whether it is team members from that team that are still here or whether it is family members that lost somebody that day. Having those connections have helped me a lot and is something I don’t want to lose.

I had never lost anybody in my life, and I had no idea how to deal with grief. I just wanted to move on from it, but then I realized I am able every day to move forward with it. I am able to look up in the sky and say, ‘hi, I miss you guys.’

When you deal with so much grief at a young age, is it something you move forward with, or just something you learn to live with?
I believe it is something you have to find a way to live with and move forward with. Everybody goes through grief in such different ways. Whether it is finding your grief animal or looking up into the sky and having conversations, I think there are little things you can do, and hopefully you have your people that give you the feeling that they are still watching you and they are still with you.

That is something I try to preach; your people are still here. Your loved ones that you lost are still watching and still guiding and protecting you. It is tough knowing that they are gone but you need to find your own hope.

You are allowed to do it and you are allowed to have those conversations even though you will never get a response. I think there are responses that come in different signs that you may get whether that is dimes that you find or whether it’s your little grief animal showing up, it is important to latch onto those signs and remember you are allowed to do that. For me, I definitely want to move forward with my grief, and I want to move forward knowing that I’ve got 16 beautiful people up top watching over and I think that is something that gives me a lot of peace, and peace of mind, but it also is a constant reminder that they aren’t here.

Why do you speak and share your story at events?
The conversations afterwards remind me why I do it. There are perspective altering conversations with individuals, whether it is an 85-year-old grandpa or an 18-year-old kid that is about to embark on their journey of life, it is fascinating to have those conversations knowing that I was able to create a space for people to remember they are not alone and that their story does matter. That is something that has really propelled me on this little journey, and I don’t know if it is something I will do for the rest of my life or just something I will do for the next year, but I want to keep my intentions pure and I just want to be authentic about it, I just want to be raw and genuine. I want to allow people to think about things in a different way, in a different light. My thing now is I will never go out there and actively promote myself because it is kind of a case of imposter syndrome knowing I am a 25-year-old kid that is still trying to figure it out, but I do have to remember that you never know when somebody needs to hear something, and that is what I latch onto.

Is it hard to recount your story and relive those memories or is it therapeutic to share your story?
There are tougher speaking engagements when you aren’t feeling it, but in the back of my mind I have to remember that there is somebody in this room who needs to hear this and needs to go through this. That is what allows me that strength to keep going, but in a lot of ways it is difficult for me. It is retelling a story that is very traumatic and the foundation of who I am now, and I want people to acknowledge that day and never forget about that day and I want those legacies to stay alive. That is what will always drive me to keep speaking, even though it is obviously bringing up past trauma.

What are some of the positive influences that brought you from tragedy to a position of helping others?
The families were one of my biggest influences. We all lost somebody that day and having their support, and staying connected with a lot of those parents, gives me a lot of hope to keep moving forward and keep doing it. As for the positive influences, I think it is people in your life. A lot of times we have this misconception that the people in our life don’t want to hear and don’t want to listen and don’t want to go through these burdens with you and this pain, but I am a firm believer that you’ve got to get to a place where you can utilize your people and you can utilize your resources.

For me, one of those resources was therapy and having a solid conversation with a stranger and somebody that doesn’t know me but has my best interests at heart. I have had a lot of conversations and relationships that have really deepened in my life just because I know now that I am allowed to do this. I am allowed to struggle, and I know that the people in my life will be there through those times. A lot of incredible people in my life have been a great influence.

What are your goals at this point, and what do you want to accomplish with your life?
I am going to be honest, I am not a huge goal setter. I take one day at a time and I should probably think about it more. We come into 2024 looking toward the future and setting goals, but I just want to appreciate this wave I am on and remember to stay present in this journey and remember you never really know what is going to pop up next or what that next opportunity will look like.

Myself, I just love people and I love connecting with people. I probably should think about it more but for me I just always want to stay in the game of hockey and always want to use my story to make an impact.

What is your advice for people going through a tough time?
Anybody who is going through struggles or going through pain in their life, I think you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone. Try new things and be spontaneous, and do what is best for you. I think unfortunately, failure and mistakes are hard because we want things to go right especially when it is an uncomfortable space like our mental health, our grief, or our trauma, but I want you to be kind to yourself and remember you are allowed to make mistakes and allowed to try new things and if it doesn’t work that is alright.

There is no perfect magic formula to this unfortunately, so I think validating your allowed to still have good days. You are still allowed to find some joy and to put yourself out there. Another piece of advice is to just have those conversations and hold onto that empathy with your people, empathize with your people by sharing what works for you or what doesn’t work for you.

I think holding yourself accountable, but also holding your people accountable in a precious and kind way is a good way of going about it. It could be as simple as going for a walk and listening to a podcast or some music. I think being able to find out what works for you on your tough days is going to lead you to more joy and more success on your good days.