Honourary Artistic Director: Josh Smandych
Artist: Alyssa Romano
Athlete: Mitchel Malyk
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions, and although some concussions can cause a temporary loss of consciousness, many do not. For Josh Smandych, the honourary artistic director for the Northern Lights helmet, when he rung his bell back in September 2014, he was left seeing stars. The experience of his concussion, and the memories that followed, led to the inspiration behind Mitchel Malyk’s Northern Lights helmet.
With the added task of making the helmet distinctly Canadian, artist Alyssa Romano incorporated elements of constellations and the Northern Lights, as well as a maple leaf and a symbolic Northern Canadian icon, the Arctic Wolf. Turning to her expressionism style of art, Alyssa created an incredibly detailed image of a white wolf head that captures the ferocity and strength of the animal, while distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke mood or ideas for the viewer. In addition, Alyssa reached out to fellow Helmets for Heroes contributor, Jordon Bourgeault, for guidance on how to paint realistic Northern Lights. Using an air brushing technique – something Alyssa had never worked with – she created an incredibly lifelike portrayal of the night sky and the Northern Lights – a symbol of guidance and leading the way.
One of the many things that we are proud of at Helmets for Heroes is the ability that our projects have to bring communities together, and the Northern Lights helmet is a perfect example of how we strive to strengthen the friendship and bonds amongst community members. We would be amiss if we didn't give a big shout out to Jamie Lafond from Calgary Academy that also lent his time and expertise to the Northern Lights project. Jamie was Alyssa's art teacher in high school, and when Alyssa reached out asking for help, he didn't hesitate.
The painstaking process of hand painting the intricate wolf head and maple leaf had Alyssa frustrated on numerous occasions and ready to give up, but she persevered, and completing it was a huge accomplishment for her. But where there is no struggle, there is no strength and personal growth right? The same can be said about Mitchel Malyk’s career so far. Although one of the youngest members of the Canadian World Cup Luge team, Mitchel has had to claw his way up the ranks and prove to himself and the coaching staff that he has what it takes to be the best in the World.
For Malyk, the process of creating the helmet and getting to know Josh and Alyssa was extremely meaningful, but being part of such an impactful initiative and having the honour of wearing his helmet is the biggest highlight for him. What makes the experience even more memorable is the fact that wearing his new Northern Lights helmet for the first time, Mitchel slid to a career-best 4th place finish in the World Cup Sprint Race late last month in Calgary, narrowly missing the podium by just 0.002 seconds.
With a handful of World Cup races left this season, here’s to hoping that the Northern Lights helmet can guide the way and bring even more success to Mitchel.