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B.C. veteran places balloon animals around community every day for years

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COLWOOD, B.C. -

When she first spotted a bunch of bright balloon animals sitting on the tables in the lobby of her local recreation centre, Sajia Islam was surprised.

“I was delighted,” Sajia says. “But I just thought why is this here?”

Perhaps they were left over from a birthday party, Lana McMillan wondered.

“But as I kept coming back, I kept seeing them,” said Lana, who is a support worker who regularly brings her clients to the centre.

Every time, a whole new batch of balloons.

“Can I take one?” Lorna Martin asks before picking up a purple balloon that had been twisted to create a motorcycle, and bursting into a smile. “Happy.”

Dozens of balloons are taken every day, before being replaced the next day.

“I think he or she is a very kind person,” Sajia says, holding the two balloon dogs she picked up.

But who’s been making them and placing them at various locations around the community has been a mystery for most. Until now.

“Some people drink. Some people smoke,” Kyle Mitchell says before effortlessly blowing air into a long balloon. “I leave a trail of balloons wherever I go.”

Kyle says he regularly leaves balloon animals at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre after his morning swim class, at the Tim Hortons in Colwood after having coffee with his friends, and while waiting in line at various other places.

He started focusing on the bending balloons after busting up his body during a parachute accident while serving in the army’s airborne division.

“You go through life as a young man thinking you’re invincible,” Kyle says of how adventurous he was before slowing down to focus on learning the art of clowning in his spare time. “And then you finally realize maybe I’m not.”

So Kyle switched to serving in the air force and the navy. During deployments, he volunteered to make balloon animals for the locals.

“When I was in the Persian Gulf, the Americans actually had a group of clowns on their ship,” Kyle recalls. “They invited me to join them to entertain Kuwaiti orphans.”

After retiring from the military after 30 years, Kyle work as a professional clown.

But his routine of leaving dozens of biodegradable balloon animals behind is different. Kyle is still striving to serve the community.

“No matter their age,” Kyle says of the children, teenagers and adults he’s seen pick up his balloons, “you see people allowing themselves to have fun.”

You see how that motorcycle balloon makes Lorna beam, how Sajia can’t wait to give those two to her son and daughter, and how the multiple balloons that were turned into a unicorn hat make a boy named William proclaim, “I love it so much,” before giving two thumbs up.

You also see how Amy, who usually communicates through sigh language, reaches for a yellow balloon dog, bursts into a big smile, and proclaims, “Happy! Happy!”

Her joy is contagious for her caregiver.

“[Her] smiles are what make my day the best,” Lana smiles.

And you see why Kyle has been spending his time transforming balloons into all sorts of wonderful things, and leaving them behind for people to find every day for the past five years.

“If you can make them smile,” Kyle smiles. “Why wouldn’t you?”  

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