BOW VALLEY – Three decades of devotion to helping young athletes realize their potential was honoured in the history books for a local speed skating coach.
Canmore's David Gilday was inducted as a sport builder into the Speed Skating Canada Hall of Fame this month for his dedication and volunteer work to grow the sport from across the Canadian north to the Banff/Canmore Speed Skating Club.
Teaching young athletes to believe in their abilities to reach goals has always been at the forefront of career highlights for the decorated coach.
“There is magic in every kid,” Gilday said. “All we have to do as the adult in the room is try to find out what that magic is and encourage it.”
The hall of famer and 2010 recipient of a coaching award of excellence has coached various levels of the sport, including at the local club where he’s spent the last six years teaching the next generation. It was north of 60, though, where Gilday got his first look at speed skating by bringing his children – Jill and Michael, a 2014 short track Olympian – to practices in the early ‘90s at the popular club in Yellowknife, NWT.
With a background in hockey, Gilday was asked within the first week of five-year-old Michael's practices if he could teach ice-skating to the dozens of pint-sized pupils.
“I was a young parent with a young kid and more than happy to be on the ice with the kids,” Gilday said. “I would skate with the kids [wearing hockey skates] and a parent said to me, ‘try these on.’ Well, I put on the long blades and it was a really unbelievable feel to it and how fast you could go. I knew right away there were such technical differences [from hockey skating to speed skating] that it became interesting to learn.
“My daughter had then joined, and the head coach of our club said ‘if you want good programs for your kids, you need to get more involved technically, learn coaching skills and stick with it.’ I think that was pretty fine advice to be given,” he said.
Like his students, Gilday became a keen learner of the sport done on an oval track and went from parent-volunteer to expanding his coaching skillset to different northern communities, teaching seminars and weekend camps whenever he could.
“Your most important engagement is with the person in front of you … if there is any philosophy to it, it’s when every kid’s in front of you, they’re the most important person in your world at that moment," Gilday said.
“The objective is to make a totally fun program and if you’re successful, the kids are learning and reinforcing skills with everything you do on the ice, whether it’s a game or whether it’s a technical skill. Through fun, they’re learning to be better skaters."
Ian Mellors, Banff/Canmore Skating Club's head coach, said Gilday's presence at the club raises the enthusiasm of skaters, coaches and parents.
Off the ice, Gilday’s contributions to the sport reaches many levels. He served on the Speed Skating Canada board of directors from 2013-15 and later helped create the organization’s youth development fund, a donation program that supported the future of speed skating.
In 2007, the Gilday family was honoured with Speed Skating Canada’s Gagné Family Award, given to a family who has made an outstanding contribution to the development of the sport.
“David Gilday is one of the most passionate people in the sport of speed skating,” said Tanya Flood of the Banff/Canmore Speed Skating Club in a press release, who nominated Gilday for the induction..
“He has dedicated so many years to the sport, not only for his own kids, but for so many others. I am surprised he has not been nominated in the past. He is very deserving of this award and I am happy that he has been selected.”
After being etched into Canadian sports history, Gilday was humbled by the honour. He said it was his family that helped him earn the achievement.
"My wife (Pam Dunbar) was a big part of this," he said. "No one can be engaged in sport like this for so long without family. We did it together, traveled across country together with the kids for years."