Genial athlete’s sudden death shocks uOttawa
Loic Kayembe, known for making others feel good, dies in his sleep at just 24
When Loic Kayembe was growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his nickname was “Loic Star” — not because of his athleticism, but because of the way he made people feel.
“He loved to dance, he would always make jokes and make us laugh and he loved his mother more than anything,” said his older sister Coralie on Tuesday. “He was always happy, always smiling and he was extremely protective of his (three) sisters.”
Kayembe moved to Montreal with his family when he was 10 and was later accepted to the University of Ottawa to study social sciences. There, he became a popular and talented starting defensive end on the Gee-Gees football team.
Then, shockingly, Kayembe died in his sleep early Sunday morning. He was 24 years old.
Coralie said the outpouring of support from the university, family and friends has been incredible.
“The school and coaches all came to the emergency (room), it was amazing. I cannot believe the number of people that loved my brother. We didn’t even know the magnitude of the impact that he had on people’s lives. I see people saying we just lost a champion — he was our champion, but now I’m finding out he’s other people’s champion.”
As the news of Kayembe’s death spread, many took to social media to express their condolences.
“The shock and grief are overwhelming. Hold tight to those you love,” said Anne Marie Nelson.
“I’m still waiting to wake up and realize all this is just a nightmare,” wrote Solange Berennicce.
Kayembe had been with the GeeGees since 2015.
“This is a very difficult time for our team,” Gee-Gees head coach Jamie Barresi said in a statement released Tuesday. “I would like to thank everyone in the uOttawa community and the football community for the messages of condolences — I have been passing them along to our players. At this time we are still asking for privacy as the young men on our team mourn the loss of their friend, and I thank everyone for their understanding on this matter.”
A statement released by the university on Monday spoke of the energy and joy Kayembe brought to the game and to his teammates.
“He was a core member of a tightly knit defensive unit, many of whom are from Montreal and were football teammates together at Montmorency College. The entire Gee-Gees team is deeply affected by this loss. Loic’s vibrant personality radiated far beyond the football team to his classmates and fellow Gee-Gees on other varsity teams.”
When Kayembe wasn’t playing or studying, he visited his family home in Laval, Que., enjoying his mother’s home-cooked meals that often included his two favourite foods: plantains and chicken.
“He could eat plantain all week and he wouldn’t complain. My mom would always be happy when he would come back home for a vacation ... she’d say, ‘Finally somebody in the house is going to eat all of the food that I am cooking.’ He loved my mom’s cooking.”
Kayembe, who was six-foot-one and 255 pounds, had other endearing nicknames such as “Shaq Attack” and “Teddy Bear,” but his sister Coralie said “Coach Loic” would have been the best fit.
“He was very passionate about football and he wanted to become a coach and this summer he coached a (young) football team and they won a championship, so it was his proudest moment this summer,” Coralie said.
“He wanted to become a coach. He could have made it, he had all the potential.”
A ceremony to commemorate Kayembe will be held before Saturday’s Panda Game between the University of Ottawa and Carleton University at TD Place.
Kayembe’s supporters have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the costs of his funeral, which will be held in Montreal.
I cannot believe the number of people that loved my brother. … I see people saying we just lost a champion — he was our champion, but now I’m finding out he’s other people’s champion.