It had been a tough summer for Brooklyn Van Reede. The young Winnipeg woman with Down syndrome had to say goodbye to familiar faces at her high school as she turned 21.
On the weekend, however, she got a birthday surprise from her idol that brightened her world.
At his concert in Regina on Saturday, country music superstar Garth Brooks sang happy birthday to Van Reede, who was wearing a tiara and standing next to the stage at Mosaic Stadium.
"Miss Brooklyn, if you know me, and I know you do, you know that in Oklahoma, we swing everything," he said in a video capturing the moment as he led the crowd in a swinging version of Happy Birthday, before bowing to Van Reede and blowing her kisses.
"In the moment, you’re so overwhelmed from the experience itself, it’s not like something you can describe," Van Reede’s mother, Tammy Wasylowski, said.
"Now, as she watches the video of it, she’s just beaming. That really did happen: 40,000 people and Garth Brooks singing happy birthday to her."
It was the fifth time Van Reede had seen Brooks in concert.
"Garth Brooks has been No. 1 for a long time," Wasylowski said. The home satellite radio is tuned to the Brooks channel, she said, and "I’m not allowed to change the station."
Van Reede attended three of his four Winnipeg shows in 2017, and both of his concerts Friday and Saturday in Regina.
"I said to my husband, ‘How do we not?’" Wasylowski said. "This is a big transition year for Brooklyn. June was a pretty hard transition.
"She’s no longer in high school. It’s been a tough summer for her. I was really glad we could do this for her. She’s our one and only."
Van Reede has since started going to a day program in St. Boniface with other adults.
Before the Regina concert, the family created several signs signalling it was Van Reede’s birthday, and it wasn’t hard to recruit fellow audience members to hold them up for her, too.
"She’s so positive and her energy is so amazing," Wasylowski said. "She does draw the best out of people."
Brooks’ music draws out the best of her daughter, too, who is considered non-verbal but can sing along to his tunes.
"We use music as a tool for speech therapy," Wasylowski said. "She loves music.
"When we were making signs for the concert, it was just two of us singing (Brooks’ 1992 song) The River," she said. "She can nail it."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.