Fresh flowers, a soccer jersey and other items grace the roadside memorial for Travis Selje at 64th Avenue and 176th Street, the intersection in Cloverdale where the teen died in May of 2017. The cross was made his father, Miki, a machinist by trade. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

EXCLUSIVE

Two years since teen soccer player’s death, a Surrey family’s pain persists

Memorial ‘TS3’ tournament planned at Cloverdale park where Travis Selje spent his final hour conscious

At his family home in Surrey, Travis Selje is everywhere, yet nowhere.

Reminders of a teenager taken too soon are visible immediately, upon entry at the front door.

Framed soccer and baseball jerseys line the wall up the stairs leading to Travis’ bedroom, virtually untouched since that fateful evening two years ago Friday (May 3).

A blue hoodie of his also rests untouched on a newel post where he left it, at the top of the stairs outside his trophy-filled room. On an opposite wall, a framed collection of photos includes images of Travis in every grade through school, with a blank space for the Grade 12 year he never experienced.

Outside, there’s a soccer net and artificial turf he never got to use.

“That was for him to train on, and that net, we assembled that the day before he died,” lamented his father, Miki.

“He wanted it, so we ordered it, put it together on the Tuesday, and on Wednesday he was dead. And I can’t take it down.”

A framed collection shows photos of Travis Selje in every grade through school, with a blank space for the Grade 12 year he never experienced. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

At around 9 p.m. on May 3, 2017, Travis Malcolm Selje – pronounced SELL-yay –was on his way home from a soccer practice when a speeding Cadillac slammed into his Honda Prelude, which was stopped at a red light, heading east.

The 17-year-old, a high-level athlete and straight-A student, succumbed to his massive injuries at Royal Columbian Hospital two days later.

Last October, Surrey resident Rituraj Kaur Grewal, 24, was charged in connection with the crash, her next day in court to come next year.

READ MORE: Young woman charged in Surrey crash that killed Travis Selje, 17.

“There’s no excuse,” Miki said. “It’s like pulling a trigger of a gun, as far as I’m concerned.”

“It’s why we don’t call it an accident, we call it a crime,” added Travis’ mother, Carola.

Near the site of the crash, on the southwest corner of 64th Avenue and 176th Street, a roadside memorial includes a white metal cross built by Miki, a machinist by trade.

“That was the hardest thing I ever did,” he said in a quavering voice while seated on his home’s cozy backyard patio, which the family had built partly as a safe haven for Travis and his older sister, Sara, to socialize with friends.

On a sunny morning last week, the heartbroken Selje family – Miki, Carola and their daughter Sara, along with Miki’s brother Markus and family friend Angie Suomi – gathered there to speak to a reporter for the first time since Travis’ death, to talk about a soccer tournament planned in his honour this spring and also about a foundation launched in his name.

They also shared fond memories about Travis, the ultra-competitive athlete and neat-freak student who somehow found time to hold down a pair of part-time jobs – at the Fast Track go-kart place in Langley and also at the Ace Hardware store on Cloverdale’s main drag, not far from the home Travis had known since birth.

Carola remembers her son as a hard-working boy who excelled at soccer and pretty much everything else he set his mind to, including the game of baseball. One day, at the age of 12, Travis had to choose between the two sports when operators of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ youth program came calling.

“He decided with a heavy heart to focus on soccer,” Carola remembers. “He tried to play baseball for another year after that, but it didn’t quite work, just not enough time.”

Travis Selje in action with the Whitecaps youth soccer program. (submitted photo)

For his Grade 10 year, Travis commuted daily to Burnaby Central Secondary for classes with the other young Whitecaps prospects.

“Every morning he left at 5:30 and didn’t get home until 7, and he kept straight-As and never complained once,” Miki said.

“For a 15-year-old kid, that’s pretty good.”

Four years into it, with injuries mounting and change in the air, Travis left the Whitecaps program to return to Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary, much closer to home.

At age 16, he was also again positioned as centre-back defender with Surrey United, the club where he began playing the game as a five-year-old, in 2005.

“He was just excelling, and loved it,” Carola recalled. “So this was in Grade 11, when universities had approached him already, about going to this place or that place, so he said he would make his decision after playing in the Canada Games that August, with Team BC.

“We were talking about it, all three of us,” she said, gesturing toward her husband, her eyes dewy.

“He never got to make the decision.”

Carola stopped talking, for a brief moment of silence in the conversation.

In the distance, a siren.

“Do you hear that?” she asked. “You probably don’t hear those sirens right now,” she continued, “but you have no idea what we’re going through. I hear them and I’m right back there, on that day it happened. I hear them every day.”

Cigarette in hand, Miki nodded in agreement.

“I even asked the police to stop using their sirens around here, because I just can’t hear them,” he said. “I know they can’t do that, but it just drives me nuts.”

Travis Selje with Rex, the family dog he got to enjoy for the final six months of his life. (submitted photo)

Back to the subject of Travis and soccer, his parents say he did not see himself playing pro.

“He didn’t talk about it, no,” Miki related. “And I think he was a better baseball player than a soccer player, but soccer was a better opportunity at the time, and for me it was a way for him to get into scholarships, an education, and he knew education came first, too. Soccer was a way for him to get that.”

Carola said Travis was working hard to graduate several months early, in January of 2018.

“We didn’t know which university he’d go to,” she said, “but we wanted to keep him in Canada, and maybe that was going to be back east somewhere.”

He wanted to be in business, or accounting.

“He loved money,” Sara added with a smile. “He had options. He was really smart.”

With the help of Suomi and others, the local soccer community will come together on June 2 for the inaugural TS3 Inspires tournament, created as a fun-filled day for preteen players on 80 teams to celebrate Travis’ life, in a six-on-six format.

Naturally, the games will be played at Cloverdale Athletic Park, the place where Travis spent his final hour conscious.

“Surrey United approached us that they wanted to do a tournament in Travis’ name, and we never thought something like that would happen, and so fast,” Carola explained. “So they took it in their own hands, with people’s help – so many volunteers and great people, and the community just wants to help and contribute and honour Travis, and that is so touching.

“From the day this happened,” she added, “we’ve had overwhelming support from people, some we didn’t even know, with flowers and cards, letters. We want to thank everyone.… We didn’t even know how to get through a day, the next minute, nothing, without our friends.”

homelessphoto

PHOTO: Framed photos of Travis Selje and other items fill the top of a dresser in his bedroom. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

The tournament website (ts3inspires.com) includes several tributes to Travis written by former coaches and others who remember watching him play soccer, including Jeff Clarke, Surrey United’s technical director.

“He was a champion and true competitor and a kid that truly loved every second of his sports experiences,” Clarke wrote. “Surrey United SC celebrated all of his successes in his teenage years with Whitecaps FC and were proud to see him return to SUSC at U17. In the short period that he returned to the club before his tragic passing, Travis inspired his 2000 (birth year) teammates and many of the young players that emulated him in the club. He also set a standard of being a great teammate and competitor that will influence SUSC teams and players positively for years to come.”

The website also includes video of Travis in action on the soccer pitch.

“A player he had some good battles with, his dad always shot video of the games, of his son playing – every single game,” Miki explained. “They’re from Coquitlam, and he put that together and gave it to me. He went though every video he had and picked out highlights of Travis playing.”

With Surrey United’s BCSPL team in his final season, Travis wore #3, so the TS3 Inspires tournament name is combination of his initials and his jersey number.

Travis was born on March 5, 2000, and his jersey with the Whitecaps youth program was #35, a representation of his birth month and day. That Whitecaps jersey number, with the word “Selje” above it, is tattooed on Miki’s back, life-sized and in the same font.

Fighting tears while standing outside his son’s bedroom, Miki pulled up his shirt to reveal the breathtaking artwork.

“On jersey day or whatever, people ask where mine is. Well, it’s always with me, right there on my back.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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