It was the toughest challenge of the whole competition and emotionally, physically, and mentally demanding, but Tyler (Ty) Smith dug deep and thought of the 16 friends he lost in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and found the inner strength to master it.
It was Season 9 of The Amazing Race Canada and the challenge was the OCAD pole climb in Toronto. “My physical side was going and that is when the mental side started creeping in and honestly, I was ready to be done,“ he says. “I was ready to accept the fact that I had ruined it for us, but it was more for me personally, as it was quite the test as I had to dig in and find that inner strength, but a lot of that strength also came from my partner on the ground.”
That partner is Kat Kastner, Smith’s girlfriend and teammate, and together they took on the epic cross-Canada challenge in Season 9, which ended last month. The Calgary couple— both 25-years-old—but more mature beyond their age, decided to apply for the contest: “to challenge our relationship.”
“It gave us opportunities that we wouldn’t have
learned from in everyday life. We can hold that very
close and offer that up to family and friends and say
to them that they matter and their stories matter.”
They met on social media five years ago and immediately became soulmates. “We both were athletes and the time seemed right for us, so we sent in a video application and went through the process,“ Kastner explains. “We didn’t know what it was going to be like or what the challenges were going to be—we just embraced it all.”
Not knowing what to expect they couldn’t really do any prep: “We learnt how to tie some knots and brushed up on our French,” Kastner fondly remembers. And they watched re-runs of the shows but from a different perspective— from a competitive standpoint.
They didn’t want to overprepare and they really didn’t have a strategy. “We wanted to stay true to ourselves, have a lot of fun and enjoy every moment as best we could,” says Smith. “We wanted to show the love and support and foundation we have as a couple.”
Their camaraderie and support for each other was evident in every challenge. They knew when to push each other, when to lean on each other and whose turn it was to take on a challenge. “Like the bungee jump in Whistler, Kat knew and understood when this needed to happen and that she needed to do it.” This trust and faith in each other grew as the season progressed, as did their strength knowing that: “16 angels were looking down on us.”
On April 6, 2018, Smith was with his Humboldt Broncos teammates in that ill-fated bus crash that killed 16 players and injured 13. He was one of the lucky ones, coming away with a broken collarbone and shoulder blade and some nerve damage, and while the physical scars have gone, the mental ones remain. So much so that he is now a strong advocate for mental health and dedicated The Amazing Race Canada to his teammates.
Originally from Leduc, Alberta, he played 10 games for the Broncos after the crash and regularly keeps in touch with all 29 families affected by the tragic accident. “Knowing they were laughing and crying with us throughout the contest made us speechless and created a lot of emotion. We were racing not just for us but for those supporting us. We are connected for life. That bond will never break.” That bond is always with them as the couple wore Broncos wristbands and hats throughout the episodes.
Kastner also has had mental health challenges. A promising ringette athlete growing up, she suffered from depression and anxiety as a young adult and at university. At 19 she was able to get therapy and medication. Looking back, she says that her anxiety stopped her from doing anything physical, but being in the series changed all that. “In the race I didn’t have that option. It was eye opening and empowering for me to be able to accomplish the challenges.”
While many challenges were extremely hard, there were also some fun moments. “I loved the tree dancing in Tofino and would do that again,” says Kastner. And there were some uncontrollable times. “The traffic in downtown Toronto on the way to Sunnyside Beach was something we couldn’t control and prepare for,” adds Smith
They agree the most stressful challenge they faced was the last one—the crossword puzzle. Knowing from watching previous seasons that the last challenge would be about testing their knowledge and memory of what they had done over the episodes, they knew this challenge was crucial, particularly as they were in first place. “You get to the puzzle and it is hard for your mind not to go blank,” says Smith. “We knew we were in the spotlight and this would be the last challenge, and so we had to tune out and just focus, go from leg to leg and think about everything. Looking back, it was probably one of the most stressful things we have been a part of.”
Smith and Kastner became quite close to the other couples competing, in particular their fellow finalists—Tyler Turner and Kayleen Vandervee and Ben Chutta and Anwar Ahmed. Over the weeks they shared touching, moving stories that will always resonate with them. “Everyone in the cast had an inspiring story and we have a special connection with them which will stay with us forever,” said Kastner. Smith agrees. “We were fortunate to race against them, they all have powerful stories, and we learned a lot from them.”
They also enjoyed meeting host Jon Montgomery. The Olympian has been hosting The Amazing Race Canada for 10 years.
“He is such a unique individual—I would love him to narrate my life,” said Smith, smiling.
Montgomery has nothing but praise for the winners. “Ty and Kat are brilliant ambassadors for the show, their families,
and the communities they represent. They were a lot of fun to watch this summer and the way they supported each other, dug deep, and had some fun while they were doing it all, is commendable.“
“Watching the racers approach and then push past their fears and boundaries that we all have is inspiring,” adds Montgomery.
With the airing of the last episode also came the big secret reveal—who won? How did Smith and Kastner manage to keep the secret from their families and friends? “It was really hard but we felt we had a power over them by keeping the secret.”
Looking back at the series, its challenges and its highs and lows they both agree the experience hasn’t really changed them, although Smith did voluntarily bring up the million-dollar question everyone is asking—when are you putting a ring on her finger? “It will happen,” he says noncommittally. But they reflect on their journey and how much they have learned about themselves. “It shows how much you can empower your partner and it gave us opportunities that we wouldn’t have learned from in everyday life. We can hold that very close and offer that up to family and friends and say to them that they matter and their stories matter.”
With becoming the latest winners of The Amazing Race Canada comes an around-the-world trip, $250,000 cash and two 2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2s. “The win hasn’t quite sunk in yet but when I am behind the wheel of my new Chevy it will,” Smith quips. Their first trip though is to Portugal, Greece and Italy, a prize they won by winning one of the legs. They look forward to furthering their adventures and particularly want to visit Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Once everything is settled, they do want to continue to be mental health advocates—Smith is already an accomplished public speaker—using their experience from The Amazing Race Canada to share their story.
Any tips for future contestants interested in applying for The Amazing Race Canada?
“Choose a good partner and never leave your backpack in a car!” says Kastner. (In the final episode they left their backpacks in their taxi not realizing they needed ID for the next challenge).
“Face it head-on, throw yourself into the experience, get as much enjoyment as you can. There are so many things you will never do in your life that this race offers. It’s a unique journey bringing lifelong memories,” adds Smith.
He knows contestants face their own challenges going into The Amazing Race Canada. His advice? Take one step at a time.
“In life it is so easy to diminish your own story and to look so far ahead and forget the present. The race meant we were present at all times. You need to know you are not alone and will find ways to light your candle, even though it may flicker sometimes. Use your story to offer that light at the end of other’s people’s tunnels.”
Season 9 of The Amazing Race Canada is available to stream on CTV.ca, the CTV app, and on Crave. CTV has announced that The Amazing Race Canada will be returning for a 10th season with casting details to be announced soon.
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Read This Story in Our 2023 Fall Fitness & Food Issue
Featuring this year’s winners of the Amazing Race Canada, Ty Smith and Kat Kastner on our cover. Inside our latest issue, you’ll find all the inspiration you need to carry you through the autumn season. From delicious high-protein recipes and how to resist the crunch of potato chips to running through the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies and the latest in nutrition and fitness, these pages are packed with expert knowledge and advice.