Gabby Maravilla of Red Deer put one foot in front of the other and cautiously shuffled into the middle of the arena, arms stretched wide out for optimum balance.
It was the first time the 16-year-old from El Salvador had ever been on skates.
“I’m a bit scared,” she said, knees starting to wobble as she turned around to head for the boards. “But it’s exciting too. It’s fun, this gliding feeling.”
Maravilla and almost 50 other immigrant youth between the ages of 10 and 19 laced up their blades on Thursday for the first time at the Kinex Arena in Red Deer as part of the third annual Learn to Skate program presented by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE).
Maravilla said for her the session wasn’t just about trying to shave off some ice; it was also an opportunity to hang out with her friends and meet other adolescents new to Canada.
It was the same reason Aldrin Lapis of the Philippines said he decided to come out with a friend and put on a helmet.
“It’s hard to do but I wanted to do it so here I am,” Lapis, 17, said, dusting off his knees after a fall. “It’s all for the experience. This is very Canadian.”
An attraction to the event this year was Trent Hunter, a former New York Islander and current assistant coach of the midget AAA Optimist Chiefs. Along with 15 other volunteers from the RCMP, St. John Ambulance and CARE, Hunter was on hand to give the new Canadians a lesson in “bending your knees,” learning how to stop, pivot and all the other ins and outs of coasting around a slippery rink.
The program runs for two days from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday’s session featured a basic skating instruction and various drills, wrapping up with a fun hockey lesson and game.
Today’s session is a “practice day” at Bower Ponds to try out the previous day’s exercises and take a glide on an outdoor rink.
Rachel Pinno, CARE’s settlement practitioner with immigrant youth, is one of the main organizers of the event and said the Learn to Skate program is about preventing feelings of isolation during the winter holidays.
“Three years ago, one of the youth mentioned to me she really wanted to learn how to skate and over Christmas is the perfect time to get such a program running,” Pinno said.
“Christmas break for some of the immigrant and refugee kids can be a really lonely, boring time in that it’s a new place and it’s cold outside and they miss their friends at school so they don’t know what to do or where to go. This is an activity that gets them out of the house and allows them to become more familiar with the community.
“It gives them a taste of some of the hobbies and past times Canadians really enjoy and things that they can hopefully continue doing with their friends and families.”
The City of Red Deer is a partner in the free event and CARE provides all the equipment from skates to helmets to hockey sticks.
Last year, around 40 youth showed up to strap on the blades. Pinno said she estimates just around 50 hit the ice this time around.