Manitoba

Birds Hill drowning victim from Rwanda was proud to become Canadian

He talked about being a proud Canadian and loved to give it his all on and off the field, but Jean-Baptiste Ajua's life was cut short over the weekend.

Jean-Baptiste Ajua, 22, died while swimming at beach in Birds Hill Provincial Park

A family member has told CBC that Jean-Baptiste Ajua drowned yesterday at Birds Bill Beach. (Facebook )

He talked about being a proud Canadian and loved to give it his all on and off the field, but Jean-Baptiste Ajua's life was cut short over the weekend.

The young man drowned at Birds Hill Beach Saturday afternoon. He was 22.

"At first I didn't believe it for like an hour or two," said Egide Ndayirukiye, a close friend and past trackmate of Ajua's.

Ndayirukiye found out about his friend's passing Sunday morning.

"We're going to miss him ... a lot," Ndayirukiye said. "He was like the best guy on the track and off the track.

"He really loved the sport."

Ndayirukiye said he's still in shock about the drowning and is unsure of how it happened. He said Ajua, who was very athletic and in school at the University of Winnipeg studying to become a gym teacher, knew how to swim "a little bit."

He said a friend tried to pull Ajua from the water after he went missing, but it was too late.

Search crews found him unresponsive in the water at 4:45 p.m. in the same spot he went missing. He was taken to Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg, where he was pronounced dead.

Friends started posting messages of condolences for Ajua on social media Sunday morning.

Ndayirukiye said Ajua immigrated to Canada from Rwanda in 2009 and was very happy to be in the country.

Ajua posted on Facebook during a January citizenship ceremony in Winnipeg about how happy he was to become a Canadian.

"I called myself a Canadian the day I landed here. But today I had to show off to the rest of the world," the post read.

"It's always good to be in the winning, strongest team. Proud to be a Canadian," read another post.

Claude Berube, U of M Bisons track and field and cross-country head coach, said in a statement Sunday that the "Bison sport family" sends its condolences to Jean-Baptiste's family and friends.

"Jean-Baptiste was a kind and gentle person and also a talented young runner. J.B., as he was known by his teammates, was well liked by all. He also had a busy and balanced life juggling school, work, family life while performing very well," Berube wrote.

Ajua was part of the U of M track and field and cross-country teams during the 2013-14 season, and finished as the 10th fastest runner in the Canada West men's category at the 2013 CIS Cross Country Championship, Berube said.

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