Hockey ref cranks AC/DC for 19-hour outdoor skate in Calgary for Alzheimer's

A hockey referee from Ontario is in Calgary to skate non-stop for 19.5 hours to raise money for Alzheimer's. The mega AC/DC fan says he doesn't mind the cold.

Steve McNeil raises funds to honour his mom and mark the long hours caregivers put in

Steve McNeil says that 19 hours of skating represents the marathon days that are typical for a caregiver. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

When Steve McNeil gets cold skating outside, he cranks AC/DC and pictures his mom's turkey dinner and apple pie. 

The hockey referee from Ontario is skating for 19 hours and 26 minutes in each of Canada's cities with an NHL team. 

And only on outdoor rinks.

"I'm almost 58 years old. Skating part's easy," McNeil said. "I've had to learn how to Twitter and Facebook. That's so much more difficult for somebody my age — believe me when I say it."

McNeil dons his yellow sweater and hits the ice in Calgary's Beltline, at Thomson Family Park's outdoor rink, from midnight to 7:26 p.m. Saturday.

He'll skate in circles non-stop, hoping to inspire people to donate to Alzheimer's research and services for caregivers.

That's why he won't be deterred from his unusual challenge in seven Canadian cities, even in Montreal on a –29 C day.

In memory of mom

McNeil's mother, Eunice, battled the neurological disease for nearly 20 years. His challenge is named #1926Skate after the year of her birth.

"I don't get cold very often, but when I do start to get a chill down my back at three or four in the morning, I think of my mom — truly, I do," he said.

That length of time, he said, is comparable to the long days caregivers spend on Alzheimer's patients. He cared for his mother before she went into a nursing home.

"It affects so many more people than just the person that gets sick," he said. "So the 19-and-a-half hours is easy."

Eunice McNeil, born in 1926, was the mother of Steve McNeil, right. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease, so her son is skating in cities across Canada to raise money in her memory. (Steve McNeil/Facebook, CBC)

In his mother's case, McNeil's family learned his mom had the disease because a nearby store owner found her confused. He urges people to watch out for symptoms, and reach out to local Alzheimer's societies for support.

More than half a million Canadians are living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, which says that figure may increase to nearly a million within 15 years.

A spokesperson for the society said they were grateful for volunteers like McNeil who make a positive and passionate contribution through their efforts.

Big AC/DC fan

McNeil will have his iPhone ready to go for the skate. The only music on it is AC/DC.

He loves the Australian rockers' tunes. His favourite is Gone Shootin'. At this point, McNeil knows nearly all the words — and guitar riffs.

"I play air guitar when I'm skating through the night because it's just me," he said. "Nobody's stupid enough to be out there all night."

AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young died from dementia-related complications in 2017.

Steve McNeil has generated thousands of dollars for the Alzheimer Society of Canada with his skating fundraiser. (Submitted by Steve McNeil)

The temperature is expected to drop to –19 C overnight Friday in Calgary but that won't deter him.

"I just came from Vancouver, where it was 0 C. It was like skating in Florida," McNeil said. "So this is getting back to the norm."

After Calgary, he heads to Edmonton on Monday and then on to Winnipeg by Thursday. He's asking people to donate $19.26 "in honour of all hockey moms," an idea that came to him while referreeing.

"I've spent a lot of time on my skates," McNeil said. "And this is just my way of giving back."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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