'Strength in being vulnerable:' Broncos bus crash survivor tells his story in book

Even before he was seriously injured in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash as a 20-year-old, Kaleb Dahlgren had already faced his share of adversity.

He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of four. As a young hockey player, he grieved the deaths of a teammate in a car accident and a strength coach to cancer. And, at 16, he nearly lost his dad to a serious illness.

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"It really put things in perspective in my life," Dahlgren said in a recent interview from his home in Saskatoon.

"We really don't know how long we have."

Dahlgren, now 23, was one of 13 players injured on April 6, 2018, when his junior hockey team's bus and a semi-trailer collided in rural Saskatchewan. Sixteen people — including 10 players — were killed.

He tells his story with the help of a ghost writer in the book "Crossroads," which was released Tuesday.

The crash nearly three years ago left Dahlgren with a traumatic brain injury, neck and nerve damage, a fractured back and multiple other injuries.

He still can't remember anything from the crash. He woke up in hospital four days later.

Despite his lack of memory, Dahlgren said he tried to be open and honest in the book about who he is as a person.

"It was super difficult to do it in the first place, but I also find there's a lot of strength in being vulnerable," he said. "The writing process was super hard for me.

"One of the harder parts was Chapter 16. That chapter was super, super emotional."

In that chapter, Dahlgren writes about each of the 16 people who died.

"We were all a team. We were one," he writes.

He recalled team broadcaster Tyler Bieber's "voice of the Broncos" and Dayna Brons being there for everyone as the team's athletic therapist. He wrote about how assistant coach Mark Cross was like a big brother and how team captain Logan Schatz had the biggest personality in the dressing room.

Although Dahlgren said it was difficult to write about his friends on the bus, it was also "cathartic in my healing journey."

He said it helped him to think about the people he's had in his life — particularly his parents, coaches and teammates — and how they've helped him become the person he is today.

"I was able to reflect on that throughout this process," he said. "It was also cathartic to finally put some thoughts to paper and, in a way, set the Broncos stuff down and move forward in my life."

Dahlgren said he will always carry the weight of the crash with him, just as he will always have a brain injury and visible scars.

He's still not cleared to play contact hockey, but he had been practising and working out with his team at York University in Toronto before COVID-19 hit.

"I'm really lucky to even be able to be in that situation in the first place," he said. His brain scans showed he had 10 spots where he had suffered a bleed, which made the doctors wonder why his physical injuries weren't a lot worse.

"I'm coined a miracle."

He is finishing a commerce degree at York and has applied to a couple of other schools to continue his studies and become a chiropractor.

Dahlgren is also an ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and set up the Dahlgren's Diabeauties program to mentor diabetic children as a way to help others.

He said he has similar reasons for writing the book.

"I didn't want to write a book unless it gave back to others."

He would like it to generate awareness about hope and resilience, and is donating some of the proceeds to STARS, a non-profit that uses helicopters as air ambulances across the Prairies.

"They save lives every day and they saved lives on April 6th, too," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021

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