The word “driven” comes up often when Neil and Tanya Heidelbach of Ladysmith describe their 16-year-old daughter Kaitlin. So do words like “adventurous,” “outdoorsy,” “fearless” and “happy.”
Sadly, these words are being used in the past tense after Kaitlin lost her life in a tragic accident late last week.
After a long search, Kaitlin’s body was found by Search and Rescue technicians shortly before 9:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 30 in the Hidden Falls trail area. Search and Rescue crews from Ladysmith, Nanaimo and Cowichan, as well as an RCMP helicopter, had been looking for Kaitlin in the Ladysmith trails since just after midnight. Kaitlin had texted Neil Thursday, Aug. 29 at 6:30 p.m. to say she was going for a walk and that she’d be home in two hours. When her family didn’t hear from her — which was uncharacteristic — they called the police, and the search began.
Kaitlin was born and raised in Prince George, and when her family moved to Ladysmith in 2009, she became the fifth generation of her family to live here.
Kaitlin’s parents say she was very driven, and she always wanted to be a doctor.
“She was a really motivated girl who chose Queen Margaret’s School as her school,” said Tanya. “She decided in Grade 5 she wanted to go to Queen Margaret’s, and we told her if she maintained a straight A average, we would move here and she would be able to go there.”
Kaitlin did just that, and she applied to the school. In 2009, she started Grade 7 at Queen Margaret’s School (QMS) when her family moved to Ladysmith from Prince George.
“She chose it partly because it was a university prep school,” said Tanya.
Kaitlin also loved horses, and the equestrian program at Queen Margaret’s was another big draw for her, noted Tanya.
When the Heidelbachs moved to Ladysmith, Kaitlin brought her horse Rocky here to be stabled in Cedar. She had raised the horse since she was 10 and competed in many American Quarter Horse Association shows with Rocky.
“She excelled in everything she did,” said Tanya. “Anything she did, she had to be the best.”
When Kaitlin was 12, and her family moved to the Island, she found herself a job working in the stables. She recently started a job as a cashier at Walmart in Duncan, and she had to take an exam to get the job. Tanya says Kaitlin rewrote the exam until she got 100 per cent – which was typical of her drive to succeed.
“It was basically all or nothing,” she said. “It was like that in everything — sports, school, horse shows. She had to be perfect. She always said she was going to be rich and be a doctor and travel. She had huge dreams and huge hopes.”
Kaitlin was going to be entering Grade 11 at QMS this year as House Captain and Sports Captain, and Tanya says she was excited to start those leadership roles.
Volunteering was a big part of Kaitlin’s life, and when she was 14, she went on a service trip to Nicaragua with her school. Kaitlin was looking forward to going on another school service trip to Africa this year, and she was saving up from her new job at Walmart for the trip.
Outside of school, Kaitlin loved sailing, kayaking and climbing.
“She was a very outdoorsy and athletic teenager who had no fears,” said Neil.
Neil and Tanya say Kaitlin was “far from your typical teenager.” They say she was very protective of her sister Dezaray, and she loved to read.
“She had her head on her shoulders,” said Neil. “She knew where she wanted to be and how to get there.”
Kaitlin wanted to go to McGill University and then to the University of Oxford to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
“She had her whole educational future mapped out,” said Neil. “She was so driven. She was always reading. She would choose reading over TV — unless it was anime. She loved anime, and she couldn’t wait until the next series came up.”
Tanya and Neil say Kaitlin was a very happy teenager.
“She was always laughing, always smiling,” said Neil. “Kaitlin loved the rain. If it was raining, she loved to be outside. She was competitive, fun-loving, adventurous and very driven. She was a tremendous kid.”
The Heidelbachs want to thank the Ladysmith RCMP and Search and Rescue members from Ladysmith, Nanaimo and Cowichan for their tireless work searching for Kaitlin.
“Everyone was so amazing,” said Neil. “Everybody needs to know they did a great job and helped us out.”
“This community as a whole, there were other people in the community who aren’t even part of Search and Rescue who helped,” added Tanya.
The Heidelbachs are grateful for the support they’re being given.
“There was so much help from the community and town and the surrounding areas,” said Neil. “I want to thank everybody. I also want to thank our closest friends who were up with us all night helping us cope. Our friends and family are amazing. Without question, without hesitation, they were there.”
The Heidelbach family is setting up a scholarship or bursary through QMS in Kaitlin’s name for students who are pursuing studies in the medical field, and anyone who would like to support the family can donate money to the school under Kaitlin’s name. A bank account is also being set up in the Heidelbachs’ name at Ladysmith and District Credit Union.
A Celebration of Life for Kaitlin will be held this Friday (Sept. 6) at 1 p.m. at Queen Margaret’s School at 660 Brownsey Ave. in Duncan, followed by a tea.
RCMP Victim Services are available to anyone impacted by this tragedy. This free service can be reached by calling the Ladysmith RCMP at 250-245-2215.