PEI

Why this man skated all night in Charlottetown

Despite the snow, an Ontario man spent all of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning skating on Founders' Hall rink in Charlottetown to raise awareness and research money for Alzheimer's. 

‘Everybody knows somebody that is battling this ugly disease’

Steve McNeil lacing up before his skate at Founders' Hall Tuesday afternoon. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Despite the snow, an Ontario man spent all of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning skating on Founders' Hall rink in Charlottetown to raise awareness and research money for Alzheimer's. 

Steve McNeil, 58, started his marathon skates, which he calls 1926 Skate, in Toronto in 2012. He skates for 19 hours and 26 minutes in honour of his mother, who was born in 1926, and all caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's. 

"A lot of people feel alone when their parent or grandparents are stricken with this, especially if it's a single child trying to do it all themselves and keep a roof over their head," McNeil told Island Morning's Mitch Cormier over the phone while continuing to skate. 

McNeil's mother was a single mom with five sons, all of whom played hockey, and she ensured they never missed a practice. She lived with Alzheimer's for more than 20 years before dying in 2013. 

McNeil started his skate Tuesday evening and finished early afternoon Wednesday.

He said Islanders have been very supportive, helping to shovel off the rink after snowfall closed Island schools Wednesday, and bringing him coffee every hour.

'Play a little air guitar'

"This is such a fantastic community here in Charlottetown," said McNeil. "I'm on top of the world right now."

McNeil is travelling across all 10 provinces skating to raise money for local Alzheimer's organizations (Nicole Williams/CBC)

McNeil has done his skate 21 times and has encountered bad weather on his skates — from snow to rain to –40 C on his stop in Edmonton last year. 

He is no stranger to adverse conditions. McNeil is a postal worker in Toronto and keeps warm on his 19-hour skates by continuously moving with untied laces. He rarely takes breaks, only to use the washroom or change his damp socks after 10 or 11 hours. 

"I'm not cold in any way shape or form. I've been really lucky like that when I do these skates, no matter how extreme the weather. I seem to be able to just turn on my headset and play a little air guitar to get through it," said McNeil. 

Huge donation from rock legends

He keeps busy on his skates by listening to AC/DC, a legacy he's been carrying since one of the band's founding members, Malcolm Young, was diagnosed with dementia in 2014. 

Young died of the disease in 2017 at the age of 64. 

McNeil plays AC/DC during his skates as a tribute to guitarist Malcolm Young who died of dementia in 2017. (Nicole Williams/CBC News)

McNeil's musical tribute to Young has not gone unnoticed. In 2019, word of his project made its way to the remaining band members, who made a $19,260 donation to be distributed to dementia music programs across Canada.

"It kind of lit a fire under me to make sure I went coast to coast, and try to open up that rock and roll angle of caregiving and community involvement," said McNeil. 

"Everybody knows somebody that is battling this ugly disease, so if I can catch their attention and get all these people in the music business to start sharing what I'm doing and get that snowball effect going, we help a lot of people who can use the help."

Funds stay in communities

The Alzheimer Society of Canada website says that over half a million Canadians live with dementia with about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. The number of Canadians living with dementia, the society says, is projected to be over 900,000 by 2031.

All the money McNeil collects stays in the communities where it was raised, with the proceeds of the Charlottetown stop going to the Alzheimer Society of Prince Edward Island. 

After finishing his skate, McNeil typically gets a massage and replenishes with a steak dinner before moving on to the next city. 

His next stop is Halifax on Thursday where he'll start his skate at midnight at the Oval.

McNeil funds his tour with corporate sponsors including Harry Rosen, the Toronto Memory Program and others.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning and Nicole Williams

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