Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to random people about how they survived the Covid lockdowns. Chance brought Dylan Zambonelli’s experience my way. This one stands out.

Dylan Zambonelli relaxing with a new friend by the campfire. | Constance Brissenden

When he shared his story, the 27-year-old Parkdale-Cromdale resident was relaxing outside by a campfire. Three months before, Zambonelli had booked off his restaurant job for the weekend so that he could join his family at a gathering near Kinuso, Alberta. That’s the kind of mindset that he has: planning ahead is a way of life, with his goals set into his mid-thirties.

Back in March 2020, the first Covid-19 lockdown caught him at a crucial moment. “My four-year-long relationship had ended. I was struggling financially. I enrolled in school, failed courses, and dropped out. I would work all week and then spend all my pay.”

For many, lockdown made matters worse. But for Zambonelli, “Covid essentially saved my life.”

All his old patterns were shattered. Still in his early twenties, Covid “forcibly erased all my responsibilities. I had no social life. I had no work. Everything was torn away,” he recalls.

The empty hole in his life was soon filled. “Covid gave me intense motivation to study and re-establish myself,” says Zambonelli. He is grateful that government support took care of his financial needs.

With the pressure off, he made significant progress in his studies. He took advantage of online education at Athabasca University, studying for a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics degree. He aced courses for the first time and finished half his degree.

Today, relaxing by the fire, with family and friends nearby, Dylan Zambonelli has clearer goals. “I’m establishing my own identity of what I want to be as a man. I’m establishing my own career. I didn’t think this before Covid, when I felt useless, with no skills and no education. I felt pressure to be a provider, but I couldn’t provide anything.”

Pausing to remember this period of his life, Zambonelli says, “It’s ironic. Covid improved my mental health. I had felt a lot of pressure to prove myself as a man. I was struggling to provide for my basic needs. During the lockdown, I read a lot of philosophy and understood life better. I had time to plan for my future.”

The post-Covid years have been rough for the young man. His beloved younger sister died, and his house burned down. Yet he forges on. He moved to Parkdale-Cromdale and continues to work in the restaurant industry. This fall, he will finish his final three university courses online. Plans include joining the Canadian Armed Forces to continue his education.

In spite of every tragedy, Zambonelli does not waver when he says, “I feel I know exactly who I want to be now. I’m a lot more positive. I’m not giving up.”

As a senior, I often wondered how young people coped with Covid-19 issues. I knew it affected mental health around the world. My belief in the resilience and determination of young people is reinforced by Dylan Zambonelli’s experience. His is a story that everyone can appreciate. I certainly do.