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'I'm skating!' — Local program teaches newcomers to hit the ice

Former NHLer Aaron Gavey is among those teaching a very Canadian skill to new arrivals in town, as part of second annual Motivate 2 Skate program at YNCU Pee Wee Arena

Aaron Gavey — a former Soo Greyhound who went on to play for several NHL teams — believes in giving back.

Gavey, who retired from hockey in 2007, lives in the Sault and is enjoying life after working for Sun Life Financial and AIM Recycling.

Over the course of six sessions this fall, Gavey is volunteering his time with YNCU staff to teach newcomers to Sault Ste. Marie how to skate in the financial institution’s second annual Motivate 2 Skate program.

The program is being held from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Friday at the YNCU Pee Wee Arena.

Friday marked the third of six consecutive Motivate 2 Skate sessions for newcomers to the Sault this fall.

The sessions are free and all skates, helmets and instruction have been donated by the community.

“They’re new to Sault Ste. Marie and probably anywhere with snow. Everything’s new to them so we’re giving them an opportunity to have a positive reinforcement in their new endeavours. We get them in the door, we supply the equipment and we want to see them have fun,” Gavey told SooToday at Friday's skate.

“When I get an opportunity I think why wouldn't I want to come out and help people?” said Gavey, known for his work in the annual Aaron Gavey and Friends soccer fundraiser for the Group Health Centre and other charitable events.

“This is our second year of running the program and it has grown incredibly since last year. Our goal is to provide an opportunity for new Canadians and international students to learn how to skate in a judgment free and safe zone where they’re encouraged to just get out and try ice skating, one of Canada’s favourite pastimes,” said Shaylan Spurway, YNCU manager of marketing and community education.

This year’s YNCU Motivate 2 Skate program is for international students in their late teens, 20s and 30s who are currently studying at Sault College and Algoma University.

Three newcomers showed up at the first session last year.

This year, 40 people showed up at the arena for the first Motivate 2 Skate session.

Over 100 people registered for this year’s program.

Participants can come for one session or attend all six if they wish.

“The reaction of the students stepping out onto the ice for the first time is priceless. You’ve got everything from laughter to tears to nerves, but then you see them out there thriving and skating. They send pictures back home to their families and yell: ‘I’m skating!’ It’s great,” Spurway said.

International student organizations at Sault College and Algoma University helped get the word out to register for the program.

“I’m a community minded individual and that’s a big goal of our organization too, and to be able to do this is an amazing opportunity. Putting my arm out and holding on to them as they get out onto the ice, like when I was two or three years old, and doing the same for them now is very rewarding. I feel lucky to be a part of this program and we hope to grow it from here,” Spurway said.

Gavey, YNCU’s Spurway and other staff along with members of the Soo Thunderbirds were on hand to introduce newcomers to the ice.

Twin brothers Samuel and Sergio Ramirez of Colombia were at the arena Friday.

Both men are studying mechanical engineering at Sault College.  

“The cold weather’s a new experience for us but we’re excited. This is our first time on skates. It’s very interesting. The people here are willing to help you to learn. It’s very good,” Samuel said.

“I feel excited but nervous at the same time, but mostly excited,” Sergio said.

“I’m happy. In Colombia they don’t have this,” Samuel said.

Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker was also in attendance at Friday’s Motivate 2 Skate session, enjoying a skate and welcoming newcomers on the ice.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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