Speaking with Lorrie Bunko over the phone or in person one would never guess anything was wrong or different. She calls it her game face.
“It’s about embracing all the positives, all the good times. Remembering those good times. Tyler would want us to do that,” said Bunko.
She’s talking about Tyler Bieber, the 29-year-old Humboldt Broncos radio play-by-play broadcaster for 107.5 Bolt FM who was killed aboard the team bus during the crash with a tractor-trailer at Highway 35 and Highway 335 last Friday.
Bunko, as executive director for the Humboldt District Hospital Foundation, said she first got to know Bieber through a working relationship. They connected immediately through their shared values and quirky sense of humour as Bunko described it. That developed into a friendship.
“I’d bug him when he’d pronounce something wrong,” she smiled, explaining it was Bieber’s first season calling the on-ice action.
Bunko said he coached the girls’ flag football team which her daughter played on. She said he also coached boys’ basketball, was a basketball referee and was also a mentor to youth.
His impact on the community was undeniable for Bunko.
“He was huge, my gosh. He was everywhere. He touched the hearts of how many students at HCI (Humboldt Collegiate Institute).”
She said they would joke on texts and play pranks on one another over social media.
But the smiles then turned to sudden pain.
“I remember the last text I sent him and it said ‘Bieber, are you OK?’ and I got no response.”
Scrolling through her text thread history, she read aloud his last message to her.
“I texted him and I said ‘Uh oh, somebody sounds sick’ and he replies back with a sad face, and that was on April 6th,” she said while staring deeply into her phone while her eyes turned red and a layer of tears surfaced.
After many days of tears, Bunko said she visited with Bieber’s mother and started to feel better.
Her game face isn’t just a temporary solution to an unimaginable situation. It entails reflecting back on the memories with Bieber that made her smile and the qualities that made him irreplaceable. It’s how she intends to move forward with her life, while never forgetting his.
“Remember the guy for who he was and how he impacted the community, how he impacted our youth. Yeah, he’s gonna be missed from the community. We’re gonna miss him.”