Candice Kirkbride won the Young Leader Community Builders Award in 2010. The 2011 awards night is Feb. 17.
The media does a good job of reporting news: the who, what, where, when, why and how of the day. But they quickly move on to tomorrow’s stories and sometimes forget about the people in yesterday’s headlines.
Candice Kirkbride was in the news briefly in the spring of 2001: Spring Break booze bash ends tragically (Northern Life, March 14, 2001). On a snowy Friday night, students were celebrating a week off school at a large house party in Hanmer. When someone said the police were coming, teens quickly started to leave. A drunk driver hit a group of students who were walking home from the party on a lonely strip of road.
Kirkbride, who was 15 at the time, is now 24. She has no memory of that night. Her boyfriend, Andrew Jesse (A.J.) Chaput, 15, was killed. She was taken to the hospital with catastrophic injuries, and suffered a stroke. She remained in a coma for two weeks, and then began the long road to recovery, both physically and emotionally.
Kirkbride suffered a severe brain injury and has little short-term memory. She is blind in one eye and has some paralysis.
“I had to learn how to live. I had to rebuild my life…I had to learn that life was never going to be the same,” says Kirkbride, who has been chosen by the Community Builders Award judges for the 2010 Young Leader Award.
Since her recovery, she has shared her story with young people in the community to warn them about the dangers of drinking and driving. She has plans to continue her work as a motivational speaker and is a member of Toastmasters.
“I had the pleasure of inviting Candice Kirkbride to the monthly People of Interest Luncheon as a guest speaker,” says Dawn Larsen, who nominated her for the Community Builders Award.
“She talked about the horrors of drinking and driving…but she has so much more packed into the presentation as well.
“Her one line hit me the most: ‘I am all crippled up, one hand is all messed, and I’m blind in one eye, but I see more clearly now of how great my life is and what I’m meant to do…it’s incredible’.
Kirkbride is a pretty woman whose face, at first glance, betrays no sign of her injuries although she had facial fractures and a depressed skull. Her long hair hides a huge scar around the top of her head.
“They put Humpty-Dumpty back together again,” she says with an infectious smile. Her sense of humour allows her to laugh at the things in life she cannot change.
With the loving support of her heroes, her parents, Kirkbride was eventually able to return to Confederation Secondary School to graduate. She has recently graduated from the general arts and science program at Cambrian College.
“My parents always told me it was going to be OK, and to never give up…and that we would get through this together,” she says.
About four years after the accident, Kirkbride, with the encouragement of her friends, decided it was time to confront the young driver who injured her and killed her friend.
“I forgave him. That opened so many doors (for me). I became happy. I was no longer resentful,” she says.
She has many admirers, including Frank Elsner, chief of the Greater Sudbury Police Service.
“Candice is a true leader and inspiration to anyone who has had the great pleasure of knowing her,” he wrote in his letter supporting her award nomination. “As I sit through the many talks she gives, I watch the audiences and am amazed at the impact her message has on them. I truly believe she is incrementally making our streets safer through her “Don’t Drink and Drive message.
Kirkbride isn’t sure if she will ever be able to handle a full-time job, but she does do some volunteer work. She has her own apartment and has a good relationship with her boyfriend. Someday, she hopes to have children.
She says she thinks she would be a good mother, as well as a good role model.