Steve McNeil’s first of many nearly daylong skates began in 2012 on Christmas Day as a special tribute to his mother, who was in the final stage of her long journey with Alzheimer’s disease.
His mom, Eunice, a native of Glace Bay, N.S., died the following year after a roughly 20-year battle with this irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
After his mother’s passing, McNeil decided to skate on with fierce determination to raise awareness and money for the Alzheimer cause.
He skates for 19 hours and 26 minutes – a nod to his mother’s birth year of 1926. He only takes breaks when nature calls, and typically in the 10th or 11th hour to change into dry socks.
McNeil, 58, who is a recreational hockey referee and mailman in Etobicoke, Ont., did seven annual skates in Toronto before skating in all seven of the Canadian NHL hockey cities in 2019.
This year, the campaign has been extended to 12 cities in all 10 provinces.
Charlottetown is his first of four Maritime stops.
McNeil hits the ice at the Founder’s Hall outdoor rink at 5 p.m. Tuesday, skating until 12:26 p.m. Wednesday.
He is dismissive of the impressive feat of endurance, noting the greatest physical toll of his lengthy skates are sore lips from hours of exposure to the cold.
However, he did fall asleep once during a skate in Ottawa at about 4 a.m. and almost went face first into a snow bank.
He has also fallen a few times after catching an edge but has never been injured.
Supporters lacing up to skate along or others just showing up to chat, help spur McNeil on in his thousands of trips around an outdoor rink.
He also listens to the music of rock band AC/DC - and AC/DC - only during 19-plus hours of skating.
Last year in Calgary, he received a donation of $19,260 from the band, which lost member Malcolm Young in 2017 to Alzheimer’s disease.
To date, McNeil has raised about $85,000 for local branches of the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.
During his stop in Charlottetown, he encourages Islanders to make individual donations of $19.26 (or more) to the Alzheimer’s Society of P.E.I.
McNeil says he has been impressed with the amount of help the branches provide to people in their communities.
After completing his 12-city campaign, he is setting his sight on an even loftier awareness and fundraising tour.
He is working to secure more corporate backing in order to skate in all 32 NHL hockey cities, including Seattle, which will have an expansion team next season.
“I try to be realistic because I am 58,’’ he added of just how long he can continue skating up a storm.
“This is my eighth year.’’