To those who knew him, Justin Daniel Lysack was a man of firsts.
He was the first to cover a friend’s Sunday shift even though it was his day off, the first to wake and pick up a pal from the bar at 4 a.m., and the first to call you out for making fun of the people he knew.
To those who will come to know her, Shayna Pierce will be much the same: the first to tend to a broken bone, the first to slap mortar on brick to build a school, and the first to walk two hours in the searing sun to the nearest well for a bucket of water.
On June 24, Pierce was surprised at her convocation with the JD Lysack Memorial Scholarship, a $12,000 award that will help the Garden City Collegiate grad attend the University of Manitoba this fall as she works towards a career working abroad for Doctors Without Borders.
"When they were presenting the award, they were talking about athletics," said Pierce, 17.
"I only played on one sports team, my thing was more music. So, when they said that, I wrote it off and told my friends, ‘Wow, someone is going to be really happy today.’
"I felt extremely proud and honoured."
For those in the Gopher hole, indeed for athletes across the city, Lysack was a popular name: a lacrosse phenom who represented Manitoba six times at national championships, and would eventually help coach the program at Garden City when it debuted shortly after he graduated in 2009.
Lysack died suddenly on May 31, 2012, during a game in a Red River Lacrosse Association match at the Richmond Kings Community Centre in Fort Richmond. He was 20.
As Lysack’s father, Darrin, performed CPR until paramedics arrived, news of the tragedy quickly spread across those involved in the school. That included Tracy Ball, a lunch program co-ordinator at Inkster School and the Garden City Collegiate parent council co-chair responsible for bringing in grief counsellors following the death.
Ball knew of JD through working with his father, an educational assistant and respite worker at Inkster, for five years, though both admit they didn’t know each other too well.
However, in the year since, Ball says the two have become "kindred spirits," helping each other cope with their daily struggles — Ball lost her husband David, a severe weather meteorologist, to brain cancer in January 2011 after a five year battle.
"One of the biggest things I remember him saying to me was ‘I don’t want to be forgotten when I’m gone,’" said Ball, noting David spent the last two years of his life teaching meteorology across Europe and China.
Earlier this year, Ball handed Garden City principal Steve Medwick a $12,000 cheque for the scholarship, to support a student in financial need and who would combine their post-secondary education with community involvement. Ball named it in JD’s memory.
"There are a lot of athletic scholarships," said Ball, adding it was also meant to replace the school’s Tallman Scholarship, which had been scaled back this year.
"JD was athletic, but there was that other side to him. This is going to somebody . . . involved in the community and who gives back, which was a big part of what JD was."
Darrin Lysack said he’s still speechless since Ball broke the news just before Mother’s Day. It’s a fitting tribute to his son, he said.
"He cared for everybody. The smaller you were, the more he cared for you," said Lysack.
"If he was given (the scholarship), he would give it to somebody else."
JD was a hard-working man, one of actions instead of words, Darrin said. He was also a lifelong athlete who preferred coaching over schooling after he graduated, Darrin added.
"As a family, we’re just speechless at the kindness of Tracy," he said.
"Justin would be so thankful and happy that somebody he’d possibly known, coached or played with would get that assist, that little kick in the butt to do better in school and life."
Though Pierce never knew JD, she understands the meaning of the award.
Pierce was inspired to go into health care after taking a trip to Kenya with classmates in March 2012. Over two weeks, she helped build a school in Salabwek, conducted water research for the village, entertained children and helped women collect water for their village.
"I wanted to be somewhere where I could make a difference," she said, adding she wouldn’t be able to afford school without the scholarship.
Pierce has been active in community work around the city, including serving as president of the Kildonan Youth Activity Centre’s youth council in her Grade 7 and 8 years. There, she rubbed shoulders with Seven Oaks School Division trustees and sat in on board meetings.
She also volunteers with the Winnipeg North Rotary Club, organizing fundraisers and community cleanups and helping to paint murals in the city’s West End. And, when the season is jolly, she also sings Christmas carols with a group of friends at the Seven Oaks Hospital.
"I’m happiest when I’m helping other people," said Pierce.
"(The scholarship) is a crazy opportunity and inspires me to continue doing what I’m doing."