This Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, marathon skater Steve McNeil will return to Kingston as he launches National Skate Day for Alzheimer’s. The event will see McNeil take to the ice at Springer Market Square for 19 hours and 26 minutes, all part of his continued effort to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer Society branches across Canada.
The 61-year-old first started marathon skating on Christmas Eve in 2012 as a way to honour his mother, who was battling Alzheimer’s Disease at the time. “I only told two people I was doing it that year: Rob Ford, who was our mayor at the time in Toronto, and my wife. I just went out and skated for 19 hours and 26 minutes on behalf of the year my mom was born.”
McNeil’s mother passed away the following February, which is when he says friends encouraged him to do more skates, turning the initiative into a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research and services. Today, the Toronto native has completed 34 marathon skates across the country, raising thousands of dollars for local branches of the Alzheimer Society.
“That’s what it’s all about, raising the funds and awareness,” McNeil says about what motivates him.
While the prospect of skating for 19 hours and 26 minutes may seem daunting to some, McNeil says he makes sure to enjoy the entire experience. “It’s never a challenge… I don’t allow it to be a challenge.”
For the past several years, McNeil has toured Canada, completing skates in cities across the nation. In 2019, he skated in all seven Canadian NHL cities. Last year, McNeil held events in eight Ontario communities, including a stop in Kingston. “The last couple of years I’ve been pretty successful. I’ve been really lucky with the type of media attention that I get,” he shares.
“The coolest part for me,” McNeil says, “is when complete strangers come up to me in facilities across the country, and they bring me a coffee because they saw me in their local media… and they start telling me about their mother, or their father, or their grandma… They feel like you’re the only person they can relate to.”
In 2023, McNeil has just the one marathon skate planned, the one happening this Saturday. However, he’s encouraging others to take up the cause as part of a new national initiative. While McNeil skates throughout the day in Kingston, he’s hoping people across Canada will find some time to join him in spirit, all in an effort to raise awareness about the debilitating disease.
“On Saturday, people from coast to coast to coast can [take part]. it doesn’t matter where they are. They can skate on the backyard rink, on their local outdoor rink, on the frozen lake at the cottage, or even the pond on the farm if they want,” McNeil says.
Participants are encouraged to take photos and videos of their skating efforts and upload them to social media using the hashtag #RockinAlzheimers.
McNeil is also asking Canadians to donate $19.26 to their local Alzheimer Society branch. Throughout his skate, McNeil will wear a special hoodie that will be signed by the Kingston Frontenacs and members of the Queen’s Gaels men’s and women’s hockey teams. Once he finishes the skate on Saturday night, McNeil’s hoodie will be donated to Kingston’s local Alzheimer Society, which will then auction it off as part of a fundraiser.
Vicki Poffley, Executive Director of Alzheimer Society Kingston, Frontenac Lennox, and Addington, says third-party events like McNeil’s make up a significant amount of their yearly fundraising income.
“When Steve reached out to us, we were really excited because it shows the passion and commitment to supporting the Alzheimer Society when you skate 19 hours and 26 minutes straight. We thought it was a very unique fundraising opportunity and an awareness campaign,” she shares.
According to Poffley, the awareness element of McNeil’s campaign aligns with the Society’s key objectives: “Awareness is one of the biggest pieces of what we do. We try to raise the profile of the Alzheimer Society, so people living with cognitive impairment and their care partners know that there’s support in the community for them.”
Poffley says that by skating in such a public manner, McNeil will be able to reach a large audience, beyond the demographic the Alzheimer Society usually appeals to. “People see something like [this], and it’s unique because of the amount of time he skates, and it draws them out to see what’s going on. So it raises awareness for the Society [among] a targeted group we don’t normally get [to reach].”
This Saturday’s skate is set to begin rather early, as McNeil steps onto the ice at 12:01 a.m. at Springer Market Square. He will then skate throughout the day, aiming to complete his 19-hour and 26-minute marathon at 7:26 p.m. While the outdoor rink remains closed to the public at this time, McNeil says City staff have been able to make ice in the past few days, and he’s hopeful the weather will cooperate in time for Saturday’s event.
To learn more about National Skate Day for Alzheimer’s, visit McNeil’s website at www.1926skate.com.