Skating in circles won’t cure cancer. If it were that simple, if only it were that simple, Dave McGrath and his pals would have skated the disease into the ice and out of the medical books years ago.
McGrath, 41, and a 1996 graduate of Boston College, on Friday will stage his fifth Skating for Hope marathon, a 24-hour skating tour de blades inside the Hart Center on Worcester’s Holy Cross campus. When the event wraps up Saturday afternoon, McGrath won’t have left the ice but for bathroom breaks, or while resting on a bench during one of the event’s hockey games. That’s 24 hours, either skating laps or chasing pucks, and reaching for a snack now and then.
“When it’s over, I go home and I just crash,’’ said McGrath, who lives just a short commute from the Holy Cross grounds. “A couple of years ago, I got up, and I was trying to walk around my apartment and my legs were still going like I was skating. I was yelling, ‘No, c’mon, I want you to walk!’’’
The event this year kicks off Friday at 5 p.m. with a two-hour session of public skating. Over Friday and Saturday, there will be no fewer than seven open skating sessions, totaling 13 hours, and the $10 admission fee allows skaters to come and go—or head home to nap. There’s also a two-hour window open to hockey, 3 a.m. - 5 a.m. on Saturday, a throwback for the Orr-era crowd that could sleuth out open sheets in the wee hours during the ‘60s and ‘70s.
McGrath, cancer-free now after being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor late in his senior year at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury in 1992, has been the night manager at Hope Lodge in Worcester since 2008. There are a number of Hope Lodges in the northeast, including one in Boston and another in Burlington, Vt., and they offer free housing to adult (age 18-plus) cancer patients—and family members--who receive treatment at area hospitals.
Skating for Hope, said McGrath, has raised some $50,000 the past four years, most of it funneled directly to Hope Lodge in Worceser. Last year, for the first time, a portion also went to the Neely House, a similar fee-free program started in Boston years ago by ex-Bruins great Cam Neely.
“As a survivor, I knew I wanted to do something with my life that was cancer-related,’’ said McGrath, recalling how, like so many of us, he has lost close friends to the disease. “Two friends died in a short period, when I was 20-21 years old. It was hard for me to deal with…it’s probably something that I’ll never get over, and in a way, Skating for Hope is my way of getting over it, being able to do something.
“Working for Hope Lodge gave my cancer purpose, and I know lot of cancer survivors don’t have that. They don’t have that feeling of, ‘Oh, that’s why I have cancer, so I can help these people.’’
Holy Cross donates the rink time and a legion of volunteers and sponsored skaters help boost the donation total. A couple of years ago, said McGrath, ex-Bruin forward Bob Sweeney, who heads the team’s charitable foundation, walked through the door to donate a framed piece of the net from the night the Bruins clinched the Cup in 2011. Another ex-Bruin, Bruce Shoebottom, showed up and skated. Often true of donation efforts, particularly around cancer, there’s never any telling who hears the plea or knowing why they contribute.
McGrath was inspired by the story of Dr. Gordy Klatt, a surgeon in Tacoma, Wash., who began raising money for cancer research by running marathons in the mid-1980s. In ’85, Klatt decided to circle the track at the University of Puget Sound non-stop for 24 hours, totaling 83 miles, and that event ultimately gave birth to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Three decades later, there have been thousands of similar Relay for Life marathons that have raised some $5 billion to fight cancer.
“When I heard about Gordy Klatt, I thought, ‘If he can run for 24 hours then I can skate for 24 hours,’’’ recalled McGrath. “I was skating with a friend one night and asked her, ‘Do you think it’s possible?’ And I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do, skate 24 hours to raise awareness.’’
Doors open just before 5 p.m. on Friday. Summer’s late heat surge should be over and the refreshing chill of the rink will beckon. There will be loads of ice time and a charity raffle in the final hour (4 p.m. - 5 p.m.) on Saturday. All for the sake of bringing more hope to Hope Lodge.
‘’People come from all over to stay there,’’ said a beaming McGrath, ‘’and I mean all over, from as far away as Iceland.’’
Of course, Iceland, a nation born of volcanos and with ice in its very name, 24 hours a day.