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Steve McNeil felt plenty of wind beneath his skates as he swooshed the night and morning away for a personal cause.
The 54-year-old man from Etobicoke, Ont., raved about the support he received while skating continuously for nearly 20 hours to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society of P.E.I. and to raise awareness about the disease that claimed his mother’s life in 2013.
“I felt like I've been skating in my backyard with a bunch of my friends coming out to support me the last 19 and a half hours,’’ he says.
“I’ve had kids, I’ve had older adults…People driving by all night and all day honking horns and stuff and yelling out their windows and bringing me coffee. My coffee count is up to 17 here in Charlottetown…17 Timmies.’’
McNeil hit the ice on the outdoor rink in Charlottetown near the Founders’ Food Hall and Market at 5 p.m. Tuesday and skated straight through until 12 p.m. Wednesday, breaking only for interviews with the media, photos with supporters and a change of socks.
The temperature remained relatively mild throughout his lengthy skate. However, snow fell steadily for a good stretch, leaving McNeil to shovel for many hours.
“I would have preferred to do a little less shovelling, but it doesn’t phase me,’’ he says.
“I jokingly say that no matter what the conditions – cold, wet, snowy, windy – it just adds to the ambience.’’
And he has had his share of challenging weather in the eight years he has been doing his 19-hour-and-26-minute skates – an ongoing tribute to his mother, Eunice, who was born in 1926.
“I had minus 40 degrees in Edmonton last year,’’ he says.
“Three weeks ago, it was minus 30 degrees in Calgary…pouring rain in 2015 in Toronto.’’
McNeil had not only much milder weather for his Charlottetown skate than those bone chilling fundraisers in Calgary and Edmonton, but he was treated to warm hospitality that he says made this stop particularly special.
“I’ve done this now 22 times and this is the model…this is the model for what I do,’’ he says.
“The community involvement, the facility itself, the hotel, the restaurants in the city, everything has been rock star treatment.’’
“It’s not why I do what I do,’’ he adds, “but believe me when I say it is really appreciated because it certainly makes me so comfortable in what I do.’’
Marti Murphy, a board member of the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I., appreciates McNeil’s remarkable effort to reach out to people at a grassroots level to support a cause that deeply touches both McNeil and Murphy, who lost her father to Alzheimer's disease – a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.
“I think it is an amazing thing that he is doing,’’ says Murphy. “He is very passionate about what he is doing.’’
McNeil is set to skate in Halifax, Fredericton and possibly St. John’s to complete an impressive schedule of marathon skates in a dozen cities in all 10 provinces.
He is also working to secure enough corporate backing to take his attention-grabbing fundraiser to all NHL hockey cities.