'We always bring her with us': Alberta woman honours deceased sister by hiking with Matryoshka dolls
Anytime Julie Chomlak goes for a hike or — prior to the pandemic — travels the world, she never leaves the house without a special doll.
The 24-year-old is an avid collector of Matroyshka dolls, also known as nesting dolls.
"I have a whole shelf of them and when I look I kind of just think I’ll take that one today or I’ll ask my boyfriend which one should I bring," said Chomlak.
Along with her love for them, there is another reason the dolls are special. Chomlak shared her passion of the dolls with her older sister, Jenna, who tragically passed away in 2018.
“We were on a family vacation in the Dominican Republic and she had a pulmonary embolism on the day we were supposed to fly home,” she said.
Chomlak describes her sister as an old soul and someone who loved to help people. Jenna also liked to travel.
“There was just a lot of places in the world that she didn’t have the opportunity to go to because she was so young when she passed," she said.
After a family friend took one of the Matryoshka dolls to Kelowna, it inspired Chomlak to start taking the dolls on all her adventures. Together with her boyfriend, Danny Nguyen, they’ve summited countless mountains in Canmore, Banff and Kananaskis.
They’ve also taken the dolls out of the country to Hawaii and San Francisco.
"She is the dolls," said Nguyen about Jenna.
"I think it’s a beautiful way to give her a tribute and our goal is take her to as many places as possible."
Chomlak takes a photo of the dolls whenever they reach a destination and posts them on her Instagram page called 'thetravelingmatryoshka'.
She says capturing the pictures are important, but the experience of being close to her sister is meaningful.
"I think just bringing the doll out and having her with me reminds me to just think of her. It just gives me an opportunity to just think about what’s really important," she said.