Canadian Olympic luger Tristan Walker will never forget the time he got to share the sky with Captain Jenn Casey.
“It will forever be one the best days of my life. I have Jenn to thank for that,” he said.
In April 2019, Walker and teammate Justin Snith were invited to the Canadian Air Forces Base Comox in British Columbia to take flight with the Snowbirds.
The two compete in men’s doubles and raced the anchor leg for Canada, leading the team to a relay silver medal at the 2018 Olympics.
Walker didn’t know it at the time, but through a series of back and forth messages over Instagram last winter, he’d learn he was messaging with Casey for months in an attempt to line up the flight.
“She was my first point of contact with the Snowbirds,” Walker told CBC Sports.
“She immediately came back with positivity. Nothing but positivity with Jenn. That’s what it was like the entire time I knew her.”
On that April day a little more than a year ago, Walker was greeted in Comox by the bright smile of Casey. She stayed by his side the entire day, helping him gear up in the distinctive red and white of the Snowbirds and go through a safety course.
Not long after that, Walker was strapped in for a flight with Canada’s air demonstration squadron – Walker was piloted by Captain Taylor Evans of Canmore, Alta.
Casey was perched inside a massive Buffalo search and rescue plane high above the Snowbirds, documenting the flight with her camera.
Time spent with Casey
“To be able to get that chance to go up in the sky with the Snowbirds was a lifelong dream that I didn’t think was ever going to happen,” Walker said.
“I was lucky enough to spend a handful of hours with Jenn. She was so amazing and left such an impression on me.”
When they came back down from the sky, Walker was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for the experience – he took a photo alongside Casey in the minutes following the exhilarating experience and couldn’t stop smiling.
“Genuine is the word. That’s been my experience with Jenn. She has that great smile. She’s always smiling. That’s how I’m going to remember her,” Walker said.
Storyteller, kind, warm and welcoming
Capt. Casey of Nova Scotia is being remembered as a gifted storyteller, a kind and generous friend and a proud member of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds team.
Casey, a public affairs officer for the Snowbirds, died on Sunday when the jet she was in crashed shortly after takeoff and burst into flames in the front yard of a house in Kamloops, B.C.
The news has sent a shockwave of sadness across Canada. The Snowbirds have been on a cross-country tour to raise people’s spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walker took to his social media platforms in the hours that followed her death, saying he was at a “total loss for words” and that he was grateful for her being “such a huge part of one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.”
“She was always up for anything,” Walker told CBC Sports.
“She was just warm and welcoming from the very first time we messaged.”
That’s what Casey wanted for everyone she came across. She wanted people to experience moments. And she created them for so many people, including a number of other Olympians who had the chance over the years to spend time with the Snowbirds and take to the air.
Last summer, when Walker showed up at the Springbank Airport outside of Calgary driving his motorcycle, Casey fulfilled another one of his dreams.
He’s always had a need for speed and craves the rush of adrenaline – partly why he luges. It’s also why he suggested burning down the runway alongside the roaring jets on his motorbike. He wanted to recreate a scene from Top Gun and knew it was a crazy thing to ask.
“She immediately made a phone call and made it happen,” Walker said, laughing.
“I don’t think anyone has been allowed to do the Top Gun reenactment. She was filming it from the airshow stand.”
Walker describes what he felt during his time with Casey and the Snowbirds team as being family-like – and for Walker it was all very close to his family too.
Walker’s grandfather Len Bolger flew CF-100s with 409 Squadron, at the same Canadian Forces Base Comox he was able to fly with the Snowbirds.
During every Olympics he’s competed at in 2010, 2014 and 2018, Walker has kept his grandfather’s Royal Canadian Air Force wings in his uniform.
“Because of my grandfather I had grown up with everything being about aviation,” he said.
“My experience with the Snowbirds added more inspiration to being an aviator.”
Walker is in the midst of working on getting his helicopter license, more motivated than ever to take to the air again to pay tribute to Capt. Casey.
“Two weeks ago, she got in touch about potentially speaking at their 50th anniversary celebration,” Walker said. “If there’s any opportunity with that, I’d like to be a part of that for sure.”
And the first thing Walker would say if he was asked to speak?
Thank you, Captain Casey.