Jonny Ahlgrim starts his day with purpose.
His purpose is to collect bottles and recyclables along the streets and businesses in Olds. Chances are if you have been in Olds, you have seen Ahlgrim dragging his carts from place to place in all kinds of weather.
Dana Lattery, Olds Grizzlys Jr. A Hockey Club head coach, said it is Jonny’s sheer determination and positive attitude that has made the 40-year-old an inspiration to his community.
Ahlgrim will soon be the subject of an inspirational documentary called The Jonny Project, which is currently in the works.
Lattery, who is the brains behind the documentary, first crossed paths with Ahlgrim when Lattery played junior hockey in Olds in the late 1990s to 2000. Lattery was working as a dishwasher when his boss gave him some sage advice.
“He said, ‘man if you could ever learn to play hockey like the way Jonny lives life, you would actually go somewhere,’” said Lattery.
The then-19-year-old took those words into his final year of hockey. He didn’t complain about the little things in life and showed up everyday “giving 110 per cent,” said Lattery.
Hockey ended and life went on but Ahlgrim’s work ethic and positive attitude stayed with Lattery.
Last summer when Lattery took over as head coach of the Grizzlys, he decided to encourage his players to spend the day with Ahlgrim as he collects bottles.
“Shoulder deep in garbage cans digging out bottles,” said Lattery. “(At first) I was struggling with having to make those guys go do it. Parents may call me … but the players have really enjoyed their day with Jonny.”
Since late-January, one player has spent about four hours with Jonny on his bottle-collecting route. Lattery said it is about teaching humility and appreciating the small things in life. All 22 players will take a turn collecting bottles over the coming weeks and months.
“I hope they learn how fortunate and how blessed they are and privileged that we play hockey,” said Lattery. “Jonny is just so much more than you see. He’s a great guy. Right now all we do is complain in society. I know it can sound hippy or spiritual but I just believe in that positivity. That’s something Jonny portrays every single day.”
Rookie Chase Olsen, 18, said Ahlgrim’s joy in life has left him smiling.
“Growing up in Olds, I saw Jonny around,” said Olsen. “I never knew a whole lot about him other than what my parents told me about him that he’s a hard worker. Being able to spend the day with him has been awesome. The community is so supportive of him. Everybody just loves him. He’s so energetic and enjoys what he does. I never saw anybody work as hard as he does.”
Olsen said the response from the people who see him on the street has been positive.
“It has touched me about how happy he is all the time doing the simple things in life,” said Olsen, who played midget in Red Deer. “You don’t need extravagant things and Jonny has really shown me that.”
Ahlgrim, 40, is supported through the Olds Association for Community Living and attended Horizon School, a congregated special needs school within the Chinook’s Edge School Division. He has been enjoying the extra bit of attention and company on the streets.
“That’s good that I get to show them how to do work around the community after they’re done with their career with hockey,” said
Ahlgrim is a huge Grizzlys’ fan and never misses a game. Season tickets are an early Christmas gift from his parents, he said.
He is the 2014 recipient of the Doreen Befus Individual Leadership Award which recognizes an adult with a developmental disability who has inspired others with developmental disabilities to become community leaders.
“We are fortunate because we can go follow our dreams,” said Lattery.
“We can go play hockey. We can choose what we want to do. For Jonny, life chose him. But yet you would never know that. That bottle picking is the most important thing that he has ever done in his life. It’s his job. It’s his purpose.”