MOOSE JAW, Sask. — It was supposed to be Aly Jenkins’s moment.
The promising Saskatchewan curler so badly wanted to wear her provincial colours one day and play in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Canada’s crown jewel for women’s curling.
But on that first Sunday of competition at this year’s tournament it was Jenkins’s husband, Scott, and their three children who stood at ice level inside Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Aly Jenkins wasn’t there. But her presence could be felt by everyone inside the arena.
“It was a tough decision to come,” Scott said this week. “I think she’d be proud. I think she might think I would just fold maybe and not come. But she always pushed me to do these things so that’s why I’m doing it.”
It had been just four months since Aly had died giving birth to the couple’s third child. She had suffered an amniotic embolism, a rare complication during childbirth and almost unthinkable for a healthy 30-year-old.
It sent a chill through the curling community.
- Watch Devin Heroux’s feature about Aly Jenkins Friday on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time. You can also watch The National online on CBC Gem
In the days that followed, people from across Saskatchewan, Canada and around the world rallied around Scott and his family, doing whatever they could to help him make it to the next day.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Scott said. “I wish there was a way I could thank every single one, and help them with something they’re struggling with.”
This past Sunday, at the opening weekend of this year’s Scotties, Curling Canada honoured Aly.
WATCH | Tribute for Aly Jenkins:
In front of a capacity crowd, Scott, his four-year-old son Brady, one-year-old daughter Avery, and new baby Sydney courageously walked out onto the ice surface area in front of a crowd of thousands.
Scott held Brady, with Aly’s former curling teammates holding Sydney and Avery nearby. They played a video tribute honouring her, highlighting Aly’s love of curling, zest for life and infectious smile. Tears streamed down their faces as photos of Aly flashed across the screen inside the arena.
It was devastating and beautiful.
Scott had to be there. For Aly. For his healing process. And to help his kids know their mom.
“Just trying not to let them forget. That’s my biggest worry right now is them forgetting her,” Scott said. “They ask about mom. Not as much lately which scares me.”
The ‘miracle’ baby
October 20 was supposed to be the perfect day.
It was Scott’s birthday. It was also the day Aly, a physiotherapist, went into labour.
Scott doesn’t want to revisit it. But all he does is revisit it, over and over in his mind — their drive to the hospital, being in the delivery room and then the chaos that followed.
“We were joking and laughing when we arrived. It was my birthday. So we were talking about having the same birthday and all the stuff and trying to have this baby on the same day. She was all excited for that,” Scott said.
“Everything switched in a hurry.”
Aly was in a lot of pain. She quickly got an epidural. But nothing was getting rid of her severe pain. Her heart rate started dropping. Aly was having trouble breathing.
“All of a sudden in the blink of an eye everything just dropped,” Scott said. “She had a seizure and all the machines were dinging and ringing. They grabbed me and I went out to the hallway and I collapsed. They had nurses on me and then I saw them take her away.”
“It was the last time I saw her,” Scott said.
One doctor came in and told me when Aly passed away, for some reason, everything started to change with Sydney.– Scott Jenkins
For hours doctors tried everything to save Aly, pumping litre after litre of blood into her. Nothing worked. While that horrifying situation was unfolding doctors were also trying to save the baby.
“Sydney wasn’t breathing for the first two minutes or three minutes,” Scott recalled.
Sydney had no brain function. Her lungs weren’t working. It wasn’t looking good.
“I was running up and down floors to try to meet doctors,” Scott said. “I remember every second of it. It’s crazy.”
And then a miracle moment.
“One doctor came in and told me when Aly passed away, for some reason, everything started to change with Sydney,” Scott said.
Sydney started breathing.
WATCH | Curling helping Aly Jenkins’s family ease the pain:
Doctors thought Sydney would be in the hospital for at least 30 days recovering, hooked up to machines. Scott left the hospital nine days later with a healthy “miracle baby.”
“She’s the last person that was with Aly. I see so much of her in Sydney. She’s a fighter like her mom,” he said.
Picking up the pieces
Scott, 31, is now adjusting to life as a single father, on leave from his sales job with a construction company.
In his Warman, Sask., home he’s filling bottles, changing diapers, playing mini sticks, trying to maintain normalcy for kids who need love and fun. The routine of parenthood, but underlying it all, his grief.
There are two TVs, one for Avery’s cartoons and one for Brady’s shows. Sometimes Scott is able to watch sports late at night if he doesn’t fall asleep on the couch after another exhausting day.
He’s finally getting a routine down, but wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of his parents and Aly’s parents who drop by the house on a daily basis.
“They’ve been amazing. I couldn’t have done without them. Just the daily challenges,” Scott said. “I can’t just curl up in bed and sulk. We have three kids so I keep pushing.”
But he has his moments. When all he wants to do is cry. Avery is too young to know what’s happening right now. But Brady is acutely aware of his dad’s feelings, stepping up to help as much as he can.
“He’s an eight-year-old in a four-year-old body. He doesn’t complain about anything. He’ll help me with the bottles and diapers. He cleans up. Avery is my little Aly. She’s feisty just like her mom,” Scott said.
“We have our moments. I try to keep it away from them as much as possible when I’m upset.
“Brady knows. He always says we’re okay, and gives a hug. It’s special.”
Back to the Scotties
Everywhere Scott turns he’s reminded of his high school sweetheart.
The two met when they were in Grade 11 during a golf tournament in Waskesiu, Sask. They immediately fell in love.
For the next number of years, Scott would drive four hours almost every week from Prince Albert, Sask. to Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., where Aly grew up, to spend the weekend with her. They had been inseparable ever since.
“We were drawing up something pretty perfect,” Scott said.
Five years ago, in February 2015, the two made the drive together from Warman to Moose Jaw and dreamed of their future.
It was the previous time the Scotties was held in Saskatchewan. Scott remembers the drive along the expansive prairie landscape with Aly like it was yesterday.
“She was so excited. Her dream was to make it and I knew she would have one day for sure,” he said.
They spent that week in the Mosaic Place stands together, laughing, cheering, and imagining Aly being on the ice one day.
“I know exactly where we were sitting,” Scott said, pointing to the spot. “Across the rink. Right over there.”
This week, Scott had to make the drive without her. As he walked up to the arena with Avery in his arms and Brady walking beside him holding his hand, Scott shared memories with them of that time with Aly.
“That connection to curling is going to keep it together for sure,” Scott said. “It’s forever going to be attached with mom and curling,”
Not long after Scott and his family arrived, he was met by Rachel Homan, the three-time Scotties champion from Ottawa.
She gave birth to her first child, a baby boy, this past summer, and news of Aly’s death hit her in a visceral way. She immediately reached out to Scott and the pair had remained in contact, Homan offering whatever support she could.
On this day, the two hugged each other on the Mosaic Place concourse with their two babies in their arms.
“It’s devastating and emotional so I just wanted to reach out to see if there was anything I could do to support or help,” Homan said.
“Being through a similar experience but obviously a different ending. I just can’t even imagine going through that.”
Homan is the skip of Team Ontario. They decided to put stickers with Aly’s name on their brooms to honour her throughout this year’s tournament.
It’s little things like this that keeps Scott going.
“The curling community is quite amazing and I’m so grateful to be a part of it,” Scott said. “We’re all a big family.”
Aly’s teammates were her second family.
Nancy Martin and Sherry Anderson were two of the last curlers to be on the ice with her. They came within a shot of making it to the Scotties in 2019 — they so badly wanted to play a role in helping Aly achieve her dream.
“I think you saw probably on our faces when we lost last year she was down and beside me and the tears were rolling,” Martin said. “It was heartbreaking to lose that game. You always think there’s another year.”
You wanted her to experience the joy of the win and getting to go and play in the Scotties.– Sherry Anderson, Jenkins’s former teammate
Anderson has been to the Scotties a number of times; she knows what it takes to win at that level. And she knew Aly was good enough to one day be there.
“You wanted her to experience the joy of the win and getting to go and play in the Scotties because that is every female’s dream in Canada, to go to the Scotties and perform. So, it was hard.”
The two have kept in touch with Scott and the kids, helping out as much as they can. And like Scott, Martin and Anderson have been overwhelmed by how the curling community has rallied together in the wake of this tragedy.
“I think the one thing that blew me away was it was curlers. Friends of friends of friends curlers who didn’t know Aly that reached out to us and it really made me realize what a small community we have really,” Martin said.
“We all have each other’s back.”
Keeping Aly’s memory alive
In Scott’s bedroom, in the corner beside the bed, sits a duffel bag.
Scott points to it, the emotions beginning to bubble up inside him.
“She packed that before going to the hospital,” he says.
Aly’s previous two deliveries were lengthy and so she wanted to be prepared for her third.
Scott can’t bring himself to open the bag to see what’s inside.
Some days are better than others. But there are these daily moments, out of nowhere, where he’s hit by the reality that Aly isn’t there to watch their three beautiful children grow up.
“Every day it’s something. And that’s what hurts. Avery started to talk a lot more and little things like that set me off because it’s just stuff that I wish Aly could have witnessed.
“I see them growing up and doing things their mom would’ve been so proud of.”
He has her phone. Aly recorded moments together with Brady and Avery — at the park, at the curling rink, in the kitchen with the kids. Scott will watch those videos from time to time to remind him of her.
Aly loved being a mom.
“She kept the family together. I have to learn so many new things now. She took care of everything around this family.”
And in some ways she’s still taking care of them, through the community she leaves behind, and the rinks that were her second home.