Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A beautiful spirit taken away

Young role model loved life and nature

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Kayla Prokopchuk (third from left) is surrounded by childhood friends of Amy Gilbert at a memorial of flowers on Broadway at Donald Street. Gilbert, 23, was struck and killed at the intersection Saturday afternoon. The group of friends have known each other since Grade 7. From left to right, Megan Dudeck, Michelle Ewacha, Kayla Prokopchuk, Meredith Stoesz, April Saurette, Angela Harris.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Kayla Prokopchuk (third from left) is surrounded by childhood friends of Amy Gilbert at a memorial of flowers on Broadway at Donald Street. Gilbert, 23, was struck and killed at the intersection Saturday afternoon. The group of friends have known each other since Grade 7. From left to right, Megan Dudeck, Michelle Ewacha, Kayla Prokopchuk, Meredith Stoesz, April Saurette, Angela Harris. Photo Store

You didn't have to know Amy Gilbert to know who she was. The 23-year-old painted a self-portrait on her Facebook wall. Photos of lakes and forests that represented the environment she sought to protect. More photos of the real friends she adored and cherished.

And they her.

After she was struck by a car at Broadway and Donald Street and fatally injured Saturday around 5:30 p.m., what Amy left out in her self-portrait, her friends and her family filled on an online memorial site.

What emerges is a University of Winnipeg student who lived and loved life to the max, worked three jobs, resided downtown on her own with her cat and cared not just about the future of the planet, but everyone on it. In other words, a young woman who was the antithesis of the skewed, stereotype of the self-absorbed, entitled portrait that's so often painted about young people Amy's age.

What also emerged was a role model for a generation. A person you wish you had known when she was with us. Known the way her best friends knew her; the ones who have created a floral memorial near where the accident happened. The closest of the close being Kayla Prokopchuk; the one she had known since she moved two doors down the street, the summer before they entered Grade 7 together at John Henderson Junior High.

"The first day we met, we went for a bike ride to get ice cream," Kayla recalled over the phone Wednesday.

"She was so sweet," Kayla said. "Like the sweetest person. And all my friends, when they met her, too, the same thing. 'She's very sweet.' And in Grade 7 those aren't the words you use to describe someone."

Kayla recalled how they became even closer in Grade 9 and went through their awkward years together, growing together. And how, in Grade 12 at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, Amy wanted to be on student council and convinced Kayla to join her on the social and environmental-awareness ticket.

"I just did it for her," Kayla said.

After high school, Amy moved out on her own and went travelling the world, but messaging kept the two best friends in touch and together.

"After high school, we became even closer," Kayla said. "I don't even know how that's possible."

Maybe it was because of their "talks."

"We would call them our philosophy talks. We would go out for lunch and spend three or four hours just talking about what we want to do with our lives. And just everything under the sun we would talk about. And they were so therapeutic for both of us if we were just having a rough day."

And when they talked, they laughed.

"We would laugh about absolutely everything."

Kayla wasn't laughing that much for a while in university. She struggled, but Amy wouldn't let her quit. "She would just say. 'You'll be fine. It's going to get better.' " And it did.

"Last year, I pulled up my grades and didn't get anything under a B-plus and she was like, 'I told you.' "

Amy had her own goals and dreams.

She wanted to be a naturopath, but the place she loved being and working most was her heaven on earth, the Experimental Lakes Area.

In the meantime, while she waited for her dreams to come true, Amy worked through school at the Cinematheque box office in the Exchange and Generation Green at The Forks and more recently Kayla got her a job at Stella's Cafe & Bakery, where they worked together.

"She loved it and we saw each other all the time. We were always together."

Kayla was weeping now.

The last time she saw Amy she was at Stella's. It was Friday afternoon and they both had just finished work. Saturday night they were supposed to meet at the King's Head Pub to celebrate a friend's birthday.

But by then Amy was at the Health Sciences Centre with severe brain trauma.

And by Monday, after her family and friends said their goodbyes, Amy would be gone.

"It's weird," Kayla said, "because we were supposed to move together in September with a couple of my other friends. I know exactly how she wanted her wedding, I know exactly how things were going to pan out for her. And it's hard..."

In the end -- the very end -- Amy did something else that added to her self-portrait as a role model for her generation. Her organs were donated.

"That is just so her," Kayla said. "She would want someone else to live. If she couldn't."

Kayla was sobbing again.

"Yeah," I said. "Of course she would."

Bless her still beating heart.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 3:44 PM CDT: Corrects name to Experimental Lakes Area

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