He may not have been born in Calgary but viral figure skater Elladj Baldé wasted no time in making his mark in his new hometown with a special place in his heart.
Baldé, whose uniquely out-of-the-box skate routines propelled to viral fame on social media, is unveiling a newly upgraded community rink in Temple as part of his new non-profit organization’s initiative.
It’s all part of a multi-year partnership to build outdoor skating rinks in underserved communities across Canada, focusing on bridging the diversity gap within the sport, says Baldé.
“It’s been a passion project of mine,” he says of the new initiative that is based on the three pillars of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), Mental Health, and Climate Change.
“With all the work that I’ve been doing with equity and diversity inclusion, one of the main things I realized is that one of the main issues in underserved communities is accessibility.”
That’s when Baldé and his wife, Michelle Dawley, decided to launch the Skate Global Foundation (SGF), which partnered up with EllisDon to bring the rinks to life across the country, starting right here in Calgary.
“Something I’ve always wanted to be able to work toward is changing the culture of figure skating — so, to be able to bring this vision into reality is wonderful to experience,” Baldé says.
Why this is an issue near and dear to Baldé’s heart
Baldé, who is one of the most sought-after professional figures in the world, uses his time to regularly champion the need for diversity and inclusion within the sport of figure skating.
Often the only person of colour on the rink, Baldé is passionate about making a difference in underserved communities.
“Throughout my career, the inequitable opportunities for BIPOC individuals in this sport have been glaringly obvious to me,” he says.
As someone who grew up in the underserved communities of Montreal, Baldé says it’s important to him to give back to others in these often forgotten communities.
“Some of the communities that I grew up in didn’t have some of those facilities,” he says.
“If it wasn’t for my mom taking the bus at 5 a.m. in the middle of winter taking me to a rink somewhere in another neighbourhood… I maybe wouldn’t even have started skating.”
More about the Temple rink
The first rink is set to open in the Temple on Friday, December 17, as a permanent fixture, and through another partnership with Jackson Ultima, will provide 50 pairs of skates for community members to use on Friday, and permanently.
It’s a win-win situation, says Baldé.
“It brings not just one community together, but all the neighbouring communities, as well. It’s a really good space for something like that,” he says of the rink in Temple.
“It’s important to get the kids to be active and doing things outside of their houses, be outdoors and engaged in activities that can bring a lot to their lives.”
Those viral videos are just one reason he loves Alberta
The former competitive figure skater already made a name for himself on the competitive ice but rose to global acclaim in December 2020 with his inspirational and gravity-defying skating routines, such as this one from Lake Louise.
Baldé fell in love with Calgary and its surrounding communities, in particular the beautiful frozen lakes where he could film his videos.
During the pandemic, he and his wife spent a lot of time in Los Angeles but decided to move back to Canada in August 2020.
“We ended up spending eight months here in Calgary and I fell in love with the province, with the mountains right there and the people here,” he says, adding they will officially be based out of Calgary in the spring.
While he moved here for the mountains, Baldé says Alberta’s beautiful winters are a thing of beauty.
“The environment, when you’re out there, it made me fall in love with winter again, and fall in love with Alberta,” he says.
“Last year, I found out that you can spend time outdoors and do incredible things, like hiking, and do what I love to do most, which is skating on those frozen lakes,”
Don’t miss out on the official opening at 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 17
The celebration of the Temple Community ice rink begins at 4 p.m. on Friday, featuring performances by Elladj Balde and select friends, which will mark the official opening of the rink in the Temple community.
There is a suggested donation of $20 to go towards the Temple community fundraiser.
After the performance, there will be an open skate with a live DJ to ring in the holidays, while commemorating the first anniversary of Elladj going viral on TikTok and raising funds for the Temple Community itself.
You can get tickets here.
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