Crossroads: Kaleb Dahlgren on guilt, grief and living with gratitude

Humboldt survivor Kaleb Dahlgren visited TRU as the guest speaker for the first Evening of Champions.

Kaleb Dahlgren has been a fighter his whole life, from dealing with type one diabetes to being one of the survivors of the Humboldt Broncos tragic accident in 2018. Dahlgren decided to tell the entire world about his battles in his book “Crossroads,” which he presented at the first “Evening of Champions” at TRU.

April 6, 2018, was the day that changed everything for the Humboldt Broncos. Sixteen people were killed, and 13 others were injured after the junior hockey team’s bus struck a semi-truck at a Saskatchewan intersection. It changed Dahlgren’s life forever. He lost his best friend, who was just sitting a row behind him. He lost his teammate, who was sitting next to him. He lost people who were his friends, his teammates and his brothers.

Following the accident, Dahlgren had one question: “How do I live with the survivors’ guilt?”

“The reverse roles was really big for me,” Dahlgren said. “If I was gone and they were in my shoes, how would I want them to live their [lives]? I’d want the person to have the best life they possibly could: Make the most of their memories, […] have fun, live life to the fullest, be safe [and] live big. I ought to do it myself now. I ought to do that for the others.”

Brody Hinz was one of the victims aboard the bus whom Dahlgren has been able to honour.

“Brody was our statistician; he loved stats. I got the opportunity to go to an NHL stats room, but I had an exam the next day. So I thought I [shouldn’t go], but then I thought [to myself], ‘What would Brody do?’ I did it for Brody.”

Reflecting on the November 2023 accident that claimed the life of WolfPack member Owyn McInnis, Dahlgren wanted to share a special message with the TRU students who might still be grieving.

“One of the big things is to focus on the things that you can control; to live with gratitude,” Dahlgren said. “To get one step better. It doesn’t need to be a ‘flip of the switch and they’re better.’ It takes time and understanding. I find that holding onto that grief, or holding it in, hurts. It doesn’t help in the long run. At the end of the day, you have to learn from it, accept it and forgive. Then move forward, living your life to the fullest for those who aren’t here.”

Dahlgren was the guest speaker for the “Evening of Champions,” a first-of-its-kind fundraiser for the TRU WolfPack. The event focused on raising funds for athlete scholarships. Following the fatal car accident involving members of the men’s volleyball team, the university started raising awareness about athlete funding and mental health. The event featured Dahlgren’s book, “Crossroad.”

“The reason why I wrote this book was to help other people,” Dahlgren said. “I found the process to be chaotic. [Writing the book] was challenging. It was my first time really venturing out of my comfort zone. Typically, I wasn’t much of a reader before. So, I wanted to write a book that really resonates with people and truly connects to them on different levels. I thought that it would be good to create a positive impact on the world.”

As a person with type one diabetes, Dahlgren often volunteers for various related causes, including his diabetes advocacy program, “Dahlgren’s Diabeauties.”

“[After the accident], I was doing a lot of volunteering work. I thought that could be one of the ways of having a positive impact. I want to change the world and have [an] opportunity to write a story, and that begins with me.”

Before the world could see the book, he refused publishers multiple times.

“I was told that I should write a book,” Dahlgren said. “I replied: ‘I’m a student with a brain injury. That’s not going to happen.’ Then, a publisher reached out, asking if I was interested in writing a book. I turned them down.”

Despite initially turning down the publishers, Dahlgren decided to “take a night” to consider the offers. Eventually, he changed his mind, and the book was published in 2021.

According to Dahlgren, the most challenging part of writing the book came near the end, when he devoted a chapter to paying tribute to the team members and friends who were lost on the day of the crash.