When your outlet for life lies in the printed letter, sometimes it is just easier to write. I won’t pretend that I was best friends with Jessica Ghawi (known publicly as Jessica Redfield) but I would certainly say we were friends.
Those of you who knew her are well aware of her passion and her desire to work in the world of sports journalism. That was no secret to anyone. This drive, along with her love of hockey, is what lead to our chance encounter – changing my life in the process.
As the days counted down to the beginning of the 2011-12 Colorado Avalanche season, I received a call from Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild (also formerly of The Avalanche Guild) who said he had someone interested in covering the Avs for The Avs Guild. He set up a meeting at Brooklyn’s, across from Pepsi Center, and we got together to talk about the coming season and the prospect of having someone join the small team.
In walks a beautiful redhead with a touch of Texas, her face lit up with that beaming smile. She walked right over, ignoring the awkwardness of meeting people you don’t know in a town you just moved to, and determinedly introduced herself to both of us. She jumped right in with what she wanted: a chance to cover the team, be in the locker room, work in the press box, and build her resume. It was immediately apparent that her heart was set on covering hockey. Unfortunately, nearly everything she asked for was impossible for us to give.
Being nontraditional media, we had no access to the Avalanche and, while I couldn’t know at the time just how our relationship would continue, we offered to keep in touch and wished her the best of luck. It wasn’t long after that she landed internships with Fox 31 and 104.3 The Fan here in Denver, making the early stages of her dream a reality.
We kept in touch here and there and as Avalanche training camp drew near, Jessi expressed interest in attending with us. My friend and I picked her up and took her to camp, warning her of the subzero temperatures in the Family Sports Center. I don’t know how she managed to stay through the entire first day of camp, frozen and shivering, but determination was probably a factor. She took it all in, the excitement and energy, and fed off of it. Her dream was coming to life.
After camp we had a meeting with the Burgundy Brigade, a grassroots Avalanche fan movement, which she was forced to attend due to the nature of carpooling. Sitting at Noodle’s and Co. across from the arena, she met and engaged with many a dedicated fan of the team, immersing herself further into the hockey community and easily making friends – as she was apt to do. As we laughed and talked about the future, we began to see a trickle of Avalanche players, prospects, and other hopefuls filter into the restaurant for their post-practice meals. While it was hard to recognize many of the faces, there was one that caught her eye.
Newcomer defenseman Shane O’Brien was at the counter ordering and, of all of the diehard fans in the room, Jessi noticed him first. She explained that a friend was obsessed with O’Brien and pondered getting a picture with the fan favorite, soliciting the thoughts of those around her. Needless to say the support and encouragement was there and she quickly sauntered over, ignoring the awkwardness again, and introduced herself to O’Brien. While talking, she gestured to the group of 15 or so fans and followers sitting at a nearby table, soaking up the entire encounter. He did a double take, thinking himself unknown, before smiling widely and giving everyone a wave. He graciously agreed to a photo, which I was told Jessi immediately sent off to a jealous friend as other players watched in the background.
That was Jessi. A firecracker that didn’t let anything get in the way of what she wanted. She was supremely outgoing, personable, kind, and funny. She thrived in those situations.
As camp ended and preseason waned into regular season, it was time for the second annual hockey game between local Avalanche website Mile High Hockey and The (recently closed) Avalanche Guild. A staple event for those involved, the game pitted writers and fans of both sites against each other in a friendly grudge match for bragging rights. Looking to fill the roster with all level of talent, teams featured players of all skill levels. The Avs Guild team, captained by yours truly, consisted of everything from fans to bloggers to a Denver Post beat writer – Mike Chambers – and beyond. The roster also included Jessi, who had taken up hockey with the same drive that had brought her such success in all of her endeavors.
It was her first hockey game, and it couldn’t have been a more fun yet frantic environment. With hardly a moment to prepare, she was thrown into the fray of a back and forth game. While panicked at first – it took a lot of convincing just to get her to show up – every time she came back to the bench from a shift on the ice she was grinning. She would soak up as many pointers as she could on the bench before quickly being tossed back onto the ice.
When the game was over, Jessi jokingly picked a fight at center ice with our friend and MHH regular Dario Ronzone. Barely able to stand, her fiery attitude and love of fun weren’t enough to keep her on her feet, and much like in her YouTube hit – an interview with former San Antonio Rampage player Chris Summers – she hit the ice pretty quickly. This was just another joyful moment in time, one of many in her life.
As the season wore on, Jessi worked the games for 104.3 The Fan. Between sitting in the press box and grabbing audio in the locker room she managed to develop a nice rapport with not only members of the local media, but national media members as well. Despite being busy, she always took time to come down to visit those of us stuck in the seats. She would rave about running into this player or that player in the hallways or elevators and would talk the game until the intermission ended and she went back upstairs to the perch. I often teased her about calling little kids on the ice at Pepsi Center “nuggets” during mini mite intermission games, as it had a different connotation there.
Over the winter, Jessi and a friend joined me at the Mile High Sports Snow Angel Cover Release party downtown at Jackson’s. I had just joined MHS and wanted to meet some of the staff and Jessi never turned down an opportunity to network and learn from anyone in the sports journalism world. As the party faded, the three of us decided to go get a late night snack. We must have gone to three different restaurants, all of which had closed, before picking up another friend and heading to Village Inn for late night pie. It’s almost a right of passage with us and the company that night all bonded. New friendships were made and existing ones got stronger as we joked and laughed into the morning.
The night the Avalanche finished their implosion out of the playoffs, there was a meet and greet going on after the game at the Tailgate. Many team broadcasters and staff were in attendance and, in between rubbing shoulders with those who bring the sport to life, Jessi and I sat and laughed with friends. While there, Avalanche mascot Bernie came over and had quite a flirtatious encounter with the young professional, all of which exemplified her boisterous nature.
It was through Jessi that I met her fantastic boyfriend, who came to visit from Canada. Working hard to pursue a career in hockey, albeit on the opposite side of Jessi, he was looking for work and for ice time and quickly fit right in here in Denver. Graciously playing down to a lower level, he played with me on two local teams just so he could be on the ice while he picked a coaching gig here and there. I like to think that even then she was bringing people together, as so many – including myself – consider Jay a friend.
We did anything we could to help him on his path to professional hockey and, in just a few weeks, he has a spot on the roster at the open tryout for the Denver Cutthroats. I can’t even imagine the anguish he feels right now but I know that she would want him to succeed. She worried about him and desperately wanted him to find a team and continue fulfilling his dream, much in the way that she was fulfilling hers.
My last two conversations with the fiery redhead were, naturally, both about hockey. The first was about the Avs acquisition of minor league defenseman Sean Sullivan from her beloved Rampage. I said he had been picked up from the Worcester Sharks in an article I wrote and she was quick to let me know he had recently been in San Antonio instead. She knew her stuff when it came to her hometown team and that was how invested she was in the game of hockey. The second was regarding Jay’s tryout and those he would be competing against for a spot on the Cutthroats.
On July 20th, I left a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises to news that there had been a shooting at a similar screening in Aurora. I stayed up late into the early morning reading about what was happening. Before I went to bed I texted the only other person I knew that was out seeing the movie: “Tell me you weren’t in aurora.”
Part of me is still waiting for her to reply.
It still doesn’t feel as if reality has set in. The world lost not only Jessi, but a number of others. Fathers and Sons. Mothers and daughters. Friends and lovers. Partners and family. The whole world mourns the lost of members of the global community and my heart goes out to the families and friends of everyone involved.
A burgeoning member of the journalist community, a girl who loved life and lived her’s to the fullest was taken from the hockey community. Her smile, ferocity, kind heart and undeniable sense of humor can never be replaced. Her family and loved ones have suffered a great loss but Jessi will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the people she touched during her life.
Her friend, colleague, and mentor Adrian Dater offered up a beautiful proposal that needs your support. He requested that the Avalanche commemorate her regular seat in the press box, honoring her time amongst the legends of the room. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea, and would love to see her station permanently retired in her honor. Be sure to make your opinion known to those who have the power to see this through.
Everyday you celebrate the life of our friend Jessi she lives on. Every time you fondly think of the beautiful, kindhearted redhead, her killer fades into the obscurity he deserves.
Her brother, Jordan, has announced that there will be a memorial service for Jessi in San Antonio, TX, on July 28th.
Stay tuned for information regarding a possible memorial for her friends and loved ones here in Denver.