Hockey ref raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease with marathon skate sessions

Wearing a bright yellow hoodie, along with his AC/DC fleece pants Steve McNeil is hard to miss on the ice. The Toronto area hockey ref is skating circles to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

Steve McNeil started fundraising in 2012 to honour his mother

Amateur hockey ref Steve McNeil is skating 19 hours and 26 minutes at Jackie Parker Park to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's disease. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Wearing a bright yellow hoodie with his AC/DC fleece pants Steve McNeil is hard to miss on the ice. The Toronto-area hockey ref is skating circles to raise awareness for Alzheimer's disease.

He starting his annual skate in 2012 to honour his mom who had been battling the disease for almost 20 years. She died in 2013.

McNeil started skating on the ice outside City Hall in Toronto and in seven years he's helped raise more than $40,000. This year he expanded his fundraiser to include a stop in every city in Canada with an NHL team. He skates circles for 19 hours and 26 minutes in each city — all of it outdoors. 

'Last night was the most extreme'

"Last night was the most extreme conditions I've ever been on," said McNeil who says he wears three different hoodies, two sets of long underwear, two pairs of socks as well as some of his hockey referee wear to stay warm during his skates. "I've raised over forty thousand dollars in Toronto as a fundraiser so that's that's pretty humbling. I mean again I'm just a regular Canadian guy."

McNeil is an amateur hockey ref and when he's doing his skating tour, he gets by listening to his favourite rock band.

"I listen to my AC/DC, you know what I mean, for 19 hours and 26 minutes," added McNeil. "It's a tribute to Malcolm Young who passed away from dementia last year. So it all kind of ties together."

'Pretty incredible' 

The 19 hour and 26 minute-skate represents the year his mother was born. McNeil started his tour with a Toronto fundraiser on December 15. From there he went to Montreal and Ottawa before heading out west to Vancouver, Calgary and now Edmonton. 

Skating for 19 hours in Edmonton

4 years ago
Duration 1:24
Steve McNeil hits the ice to raise awareness for Alzheimer's disease on his seven city tour.

In each city, the money raised goes towards the local Alzheimer's Society chapter. His goal for Edmonton is $2,000 and by mid-afternoon Monday he was almost halfway to his goal.

"It's been pretty incredible in all the cities," McNeil said. "None of these cities know about me the day before I get there, but they're all talking about me the day after I leave," he said with a laugh.

McNeil says the response from people coming out and tweeting to him online has been overwhelming.

'I gotta give him a hug'

Lori Kiel heard McNeil share his story on CBC Radio last week in Calgary.  She was one of several people who came out to support him at the Jackie Parker Park despite the extreme cold weather warning, which was in effect today.

"It's freezing cold, and here's this man who's skating for 19 hours and 26 minutes, I gotta go give him a hug," said Kiel who says she lost her own father to Alzheimer's in 2017. "When you have someone in your family who struggles with any form of dementia it shapes everything, it affects you so deeply it affects all of you and it is just a really difficult, difficult disease."

Once he's finished his skate in Edmonton, the next stop for McNeil is Winnipeg. He'll be on the Forks starting Wednesday night at around 5:30.