'All of us, we can heal': Rance Cardinal welcomes new life after emotional walk from Ontario to Humboldt
It's been a month since Rance Cardinal's emotional journey saw the Ontario man walk 1,200 kilometres into the heart of Humboldt, Sask., and led him to meet survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and their families.
Now, he is grappling with his return to reality — even while taking joy in the new life that's come into his world.
"To come back after a long walk, and to see the birth of your child, you can't put it into words of how you feel and how honoured it is to come back," he said of returning to his home in Lac Seul First Nation in northern Ontario, in time for the birth of his baby girl earlier this month.
"It feels good to be home."
Cardinal made the walk from Sioux Lookout, Ont. — not far from Lac Seul — to Humboldt to deliver a "Humboldt Strong" sign to the community after the April 6 crash that claimed the lives of 16 people on the Broncos bus, including players, coaches and the team's athletic therapist, Dayna Brons.
'The energy hit me and made me cry'
Even now that he's home, Cardinal says he's still waking up every morning at 5:30 or 6, feeling the drive to get out on the road, only to realize his walk is done.
He said he misses the feeling of being on a mission and connecting with people along the way.
After leaving his home on April 11, he arrived in Humboldt on May 27 to a crowd of hundreds waiting to greet him and accompany him to the community's Elgar Petersen Arena.
Stepping onto the ice surface on which the Broncos played was one of the most emotional moments for him, he said, as the whole purpose of the trip was to make it to the team's arena.
"I had to do something them, to honour them. I got to one knee — that's where all the energy hit me and made me cry," he said.
That moment was superseded only by visiting survivors of the crash.
"In all their eyes, they were thankful for someone to reach out to them, for all the boys and Dayna," he said. "I was probably even more thankful to meet them."
'It brought me back to my own self'
He has since returned to his home in Ontario, reconnecting with his girlfriend and 18-month-old son Raydence, and welcoming his new baby girl Raylynn to the world, fittingly enough, on National Indigenous Peoples Day.
ut his return hasn't been completely smooth, as those close to him are seeing him with new eyes.
"It didn't just change me. It brought me back to my own self," he said. But he felt his girlfriend had never met the real Rance Cardinal — that version of himself he lost when, years ago, he turned to alcohol and drugs to numb his pain after losing a brother to illness and one of his hockey teammates to a car accident.
The real Rance Cardinal is the version of himself he said he found again on the road.
Now, he said he's determined to step up for his family and for his children, to deliver on dreams of giving them a big home where they can grow up.
His trip has also sparked a desire to get back to hockey, and maybe even coach a team of his own someday.
The trip itself has left a lasting impression on him, giving him a chance to meet people and make friendships he said he won't soon forget.
"For myself, to walk from Sioux Lookout to Humboldt, I know it ain't across Canada, but it's just something to show that we can heal. All of us, we can heal."