PETAWAWA, ONT. — Steve McNeil stepped onto a small community rink in Petawawa, Ont. Saturday at midnight, and will skate there non-stop until 7:26 p.m.
The marathon skate is part of McNeil’s journey of skating across Canada on a mission to raise money and support for Alzheimer’s care.
“My mother was battling Alzheimer’s for 20 years, she was in a nursing home for 11 years,” McNeil tells CTV News Ottawa. “I’m a recreational hockey referee in the city of Toronto, so in the middle of a hockey game I thought, okay it would be pretty cool if I went out and skated for 19 hours and 26 minutes because that’s the year my mother was born.”
McNeil lost his mother, born in 1926, in 2013 after his first marathon skate. Since then he’s skated in every NHL city in Canada, with his stop in Petawawa marking his 29th marathon skate.
“It’s gotten easier both mentally, physically, and emotionally,” says the 60-year-old from Toronto.
McNeil says of all the cities to visit and skate in, Petawawa has been a stop he’s been wanting to make for some time now.
“I’m skating for the Alzheimer’s Society in the Ottawa region obviously, but at the same time I’m skating for the Marianhill Foundation because our military families are directed to them.”
McNeil asks anyone who can to donate $19.26 to the Alzheimer’s Society of Marianhill long-term care home in Pembroke.
“We fundraise for all our capital and equipment,” says Linda Tracey, CEO at Marianhill. “So to have this unit, to maintain the building where these beds are located, this fundraising goes towards that and the equipment we use in it.”
Gabriel Dalton, 14, turned out Saturday afternoon in Petawawa to show his support for McNeil. Dalton’s grandmother lives with Alzheimer’s and is currently on a waiting list to get into Marianhill.
“It’s pretty sad because she forgets everything she forgets everything pretty much,” says Dalton. “And it’s hard because she doesn’t even remember our names sometimes.”
“A caregiver’s day pretty much is 19 and a half hours a day,” recognizes Tracey. “So really aligning the skate with the work of the individual caregivers is really unique.”
McNeil says when he stepped onto the ice at midnight Saturday the temperature was -34 degrees. He layers up to stay warm, but says the key is to stay in motion. McNeil’s trick to power through the 19 hours and 26 minutes is a constant stream of AC/DC into his ears.
“I saw them by accident when I was 18-years-old in 1978 in Toronto and I’ve been a fan ever since,” says McNeil, decked out in his AC/DC sweat pants and toque. “Seven years ago when I found out Malcolm was diagnosed with dementia I thought it would be a nice musical tribute that I would listen to only AC/DC when I did these events.”
McNeil also skates with a wooden stick named Thunder that he’s had for 25 years. The hockey referee says the constant air guitar helps keep the fingers warm too.
“I think it’s crazy,” says Dalton, watch McNeil enjoy himself out on the ice. “Really good on him for doing that for our community and for Marianhill.”
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