Ashley Gilbank's Remarkable Journey for DIFD Provides Many Hockey Memories

Mark Staffieri@@MarkStaff100Contributor IIOctober 2, 2012

With Tessa Bonhomme at the National Women's Camp in Calgary
With Tessa Bonhomme at the National Women's Camp in Calgary

Since June, Ashley Gilbank has rollerbladed across Canada with the hopes of raising funds for mental health research. On her Skate 4 Life hockey jersey is the purple heart logo of Do It For Daron, the charity that commemorates the life of Daron Richardson, daughter of former NHL player Luke Richardson and sister of Cornell Big Red player Morgan Richardson.

During her swing of the Prairie provinces in Canada, she had the opportunity to visit numerous National Hockey League arenas. Her first stop was the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, home of the Winnipeg Jets.

“It was amazing! The arena was new, and Barrett was an amazing tour guide. He showed us around and we talked about hockey, the building, the cause, everything. It was really inspiring as well, given the circumstances with Rick Rypien. His death was fresh in their minds and they were really supportive of the cause.”

Rick Rypien was a hockey player for the Vancouver Canucks but was acquired by the Jets before the start of the 2011-12 NHL season. “Unfortunately, athletes are greatly affected by mental health and I think if more players come forward in professional sports, it will open up a lot of doors for young Canadians, especially kids who look up to them.”  

Rypien had suffered with clinical depression for many years but passed away from suicide on August 15, 2011. The Canucks honored Rypien on October 18, 2011 and made a donation to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation in memory of Rypien.

As a lifelong fan of Wayne Gretzky, she was amazed to see his statue outside of Rexall Place.

“I probably couldn't describe it if I wanted to but there was so much history and magic in that building and to be looking up at that statue was the perfect way to sum it all up. Hockey changed my life. Everyone has something they hold on to, art, music, science, sports, and hockey was mine. I always think back to when I was 8 years old and wanted to play, but I didn't just want to play. I wanted to play with boys and I wanted to be the best, like Wayne Gretzky.”

There were other aspects of Rexall Place that Gilbank enjoyed as well, “The best memory I have will be walking out on the ice. I walked straight to center ice and looked up. I pictured all of the puck drops here over all the years and it was really exciting. I know they are looking forward to a new building but it was really neat to tour one of the oldest and most history filled arenas ever!”

While in Calgary, Gilbank toured the Scotia Bank Saddledome and met the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team. “Definitely, it was a great day of hockey! I didn't even play 1 game, LOL! It was amazing. Something I will never forget.”

Her cross country journey of Canada made quite the impression on the national women’s team. “I'd say they were impressed. They thought it was great what I was doing. Especially some of the girls who played with Morgan Richardson, Daron's sister. She is playing for Cornell University in New York State. Do It For Daron is known in the women's hockey community and they were really supportive.”

In meeting the national women’s team, there was one player that Gilbank was star struck by. “I'd say, Tessa Bonhomme. She is an incredible hockey player, plus I'd watched her on Battle of the Blades. I really admired the fact that she competed in it. I had also been a big twitter follower of her. We had tweeted back and forth a few times. She was very humble and yet excited to meet us. Overall, she is a really cool person.”

During her time with the national women’s team, a hockey player from Team Alberta in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League made an impression on Gilbank. “I have great memories with all the girls but meeting Chelsea Purcell really stood out to me. I didn't even know of her before I met her, as she has never played on the international level. She is the captain of team Alberta in the CWHL. She plays amazing hockey, she holds down a full time job, and has a great personality. She was very supportive of the cause and even donated to Skate 4 Life. I will never forget that.”

Purcell stated, "It's very inspiring to see a young female take a big step and go out to do something like this."

As a women’s hockey coach, Gilbank had the opportunity to speak to Dan Church, the head coach of the national women’s team. “I was star struck meeting him as well. What surprised me was how interested Dan was with my journey. To have his respect for what I was doing was incredible. I am really looking forward to seeing them in Ottawa for the 2013 World Championships!”

While meeting hockey heroes and visiting some of Canada’s hockey meccas has been a highlight in her remarkable journey, the random acts of kindness that have been showed to her by people from all walks of life (such as treating her to lunch, or paying for her coffee in a drive thru). “It’s amazing. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. I am no one special. I am just trying to make a difference and when other people, even complete strangers lend a helping hand it goes a long way. I have definitely revalued my own life and plan to always lend a helping hand when I can. Hopefully I can brighten someone’s day.”

As Ashley heads into British Columbia to finish her journey, she would love the opportunity to meet some Canucks players when she gets to Vancouver. “I don't believe the lockout will be over in 15 days but it would be neat to meet some Canucks, I would love to get some of them to use their status to promote youth mental health and my cause. I think they could really make a difference in promoting youth mental health.”

With the journey scheduled to finish in mid-October in Victoria, British Columbia, there is another hero that has been pivotal in her four month trek, her husband Pierre. “This trip has been everything for me, and it’s been amazing to have him be there every step of the way. I couldn't have done this journey without him and it will be very emotional to finish this together. I realized how strong a couple we are, especially after living in a van together for over 4 months.”

With all the hockey related moments which have raised her spirits and provided her with inspiration, Gilbank continues to be a role model and inspiration. She has captured the hearts and minds of all the people she has met along her journey.


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