Karlssons' anti-bullying walk raises more than $40K for Proud to Be Me

Couple creates new initiative to bring public awareness and education to bullying, cyberbullying

Hundreds of Ottawa families took part Sunday night in a new youth anti-bullying walk led by Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda – who's shown herself to be strong and resilient in the face of personal adversity.

The high-profile couple not only lost their first-born baby, a boy, earlier this year but have also been the centre of sensational press coverage surrounding alleged incidents of harassment and cyberbullying inflicted on them.

Life ain’t easy, and neither is having to deal with the emotional scars of being bullied while growing up, the crowd heard.

“Learning to explore, find, accept and love yourself is hard enough without other people making it even harder,” said Melinda Karlsson during her remarks. “Without being labelled, called names, abused, put in a box or judged – that’s why we’re here today.”

The Karlssons launched the inaugural Walk of Light at the Kanata Recreation Complex through their new initiative, Can't Dim My Light. The superstar defenceman stuck around to sign autographs and pose for photos while Melinda, who showed off her new lighter tresses, was equally as friendly with the public. 

Afterward, there was a reception held for organizers and sponsors at Richard Valente’s Fratelli restaurant in Kanata. 

Walk of Light
Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson leads the way during the inaugural Walk of Light, held by him and his wife, Melinda Karlsson, at the Kanata Recreation Complex on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
Melinda Karlsson and her husband, Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson, launched the inaugural Walk of Light at the Kanata Recreation Complex on Sunday, September 9, 2018, through their new anti-bullying initiative, Can’t Dim My Light. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The event, held on a clear and crisp evening, raised more than $40,000 for Proud to Be Me, a grassroots charity built on inclusion, empathy, kindness and mutual respect involving children and youth.

The Karlssons announced their donation of two PTBM “buddy benches,” which is a place for kids to go in the schoolyard when they feel lonely and don’t have anyone to play with.

Walk of Light
From back left, Proud to Be Me's CEO, Cindy Cutts, with her fellow team members Shari-Lynn Lawson, Amanda Krocko, Jody McCombe, and Marco Campagna, with Melinda Karlsson and Erik Karlsson, seated on a Proud to Be Me "buddy bench". Photo by Caroline Phillips

One of the benches will be in honour of Jonathan Pitre, 17, a local boy of unparalleled courage. He passed away in April following his fight against epidermolysis bullosa, a rare and painful skin disease. The other will be in memory of Jamie Hubley, 15, who dealt with depression and bullying before taking his own life almost seven years ago. 

Jamie's father, Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley, has since been an advocate for youth mental health and anti-bullying initiatives. He publicly thanked the Karlssons for attaching their names to the cause, assuring them that their involvement will help save young lives. He also jokingly put to rest the trade rumours surrounding the Sens captain by noting how Walk of Light is being billed as an annual event. Surely, the Karlssons can’t leave Ottawa now.

Walk of Light
Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley speaks at the inaugural Walk of Light to bring more public awareness and education to the issue of bullying and cyberbullying. Seen in the background are Mayor Jim Watson and radio personality ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The crowd heard how the Karlssons have an ability to laugh at themselves, as demonstrated by both their tradition of donning fun Halloween costumes and Erik’s latest commercial for Swedish supplement company Gainomax.

“Unfortunately, it’s not always this easy when we feel like we’re being targeted, ostracized, harassed or are alone,” said Melinda Karlsson. “Right now, together, let’s decide that regardless of what’s happened to us, we’re not going to let them be right.”

She urged the crowd to never mistake anything a bully says for being the truth.

Walk of Light
Bibbi Alfredsson and Daniel Alfredsson, former captain of the Ottawa Senators, at the inaugural Walk of Light held through Erik and Melinda Karlsson’s new anti-bullying initiative, Can’t Dim My Light. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
Ottawa Senators Foundation president and CEO Danielle Robinson participated in the inaugural Walk of Light with her partner Wayne Mullett and their respective sons Liam Mullett, left, and Kierin Robinson, at the Kanata Recreation Complex on Sunday, September 9, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
Ottawa Senators defenceman Cody Ceci and Jamie Thompson were out to support Senators captain Erik Karlsson and his wife, Melinda Karlsson, as they launched the inaugural Walk of Light, presented by the Karlssons’ new anti-bullying initiative. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
Ottawa Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki and his wife, Tara, along with their Rhodesian Ridgebacks were out to support Senators captain Erik Karlsson and his wife, Melinda Karlsson, as they launched the inaugural Walk of Light. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Erik Karlsson was joined by some of his teammates, including his predecessor, former captain Daniel Alfredsson. Popular morning show host ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz of Majic 100 participated with his family. Also seen were Mayor Jim Watson and retiring Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson. As well, there were such sponsors there as Darcy Walsh from public relations firm Edelman, Monica Singhal from Richcraft Homes, lawyer Natalie Raffoul from Clancy PC + Brion Raffoul and Emma Gilfillan, national account manager at Panasonic Professional AV.

Walk of Light
From left, Todd Burke, a partner at Gowling WLG, with Melinda Karlsson, Natalie Raffoul, Sarah Grand and Jody McCombe, COO of Proud to Be Me, at the inaugural Walk of Light held Sunday, September 9, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
Monica Singhal from Richcraft Homes with Jami-Lynne Sytema, Darcy Walsh, senior vice president and Ottawa general manager of Edelman, and Sarah Grand at the post-walk reception held at Fratelli restaurant in Kanata. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
From left, Cindy Cutts with Richard Valente owner of Fratelli Restaurant in Kanata, during a reception held following the Walk of Light, held Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Walk of Light
From left, Emma Gilfillan with Melinda Karlsson at Fratelli Restaurant following the Walk of Light held Sunday, September 9, 2018, at the nearby Kanata Recreation Complex. Photo by Caroline Phillips
 

— caroline@obj.ca