Sports

Epic hockey game for cystic fibrosis

Val Skelly arrives at Burnaby 8-Rinks as she begins the countdown to the Longest Game for CF, in which 40 women hockey players will play for 242 straight hours to raise awareness and money for cystic fibrosis. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Val Skelly arrives at Burnaby 8-Rinks as she begins the countdown to the Longest Game for CF, in which 40 women hockey players will play for 242 straight hours to raise awareness and money for cystic fibrosis.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Val Skelly is about to play hockey for 242 hours straight, so why is she sweating about 15 seconds?

Because that quarter of a minute could mean the difference between just being really tired and sore when the final whistle blows and setting a new world record for the longest continuous hockey game.

Skelly is the organizer of the Longest Game for CF, a marathon match being played by 40 women at Burnaby 8 Rinks to raise awareness and money for Cystic Fibrosis.

When the puck drops at 8 a.m. next Friday to begin the game it will be the culmination of Skelly's lifelong association with the genetic disorder that destroys the lungs and digestive system, usually killing its sufferers before they're 28 years old. Her father Bill had forged a relationship between Kinsmen clubs in Canada and CF that has raised tens of millions of dollars since 1963. When Skelly was 17, she came face-to-face with the disease while working a summer job at a camp for kids coping with CF. She became close friends with one of the campers, staying in touch for 10 years until her friend succumbed to the disease.

"Not a lot of people know what CF is about, people who have it don't look sick," says Skelly. "I decided one day I'm going to do something big for CF."

It may have taken her awhile to get to that day, but there's no doubting the size of her ambitions.

"I thought, what can I do that is so outrageous that it will catch the eye of the Canadian public?"

Her answer was a wrist shot away. An avid hockey player, she started chatting up her teammates in her women's league about the possibility of playing a marathon game. To increase the wow factor, all the players would be women. And to put it over the top, they'd aim to set a new world record.

That was in January, 2010. A few months later she approached Cystic Fibrosis Canada about her idea and to find a spokesperson who could put a face to their purpose. They hooked her up with Bill Markvoort, whose daughter Eva had just lost her battle with CF.

Eva, a former Miss New Westminster ambassador, had chronicled her struggle to stay alive in an online journal called 65 Red Roses. Her story had been documented in a film of the same name. Her greatest wish before she died was to leave a legacy of awareness about the disease and hope for its sufferers.

Skelly's game could be a part of that legacy.

Markvoort gave his blessing to have Eva and her trademark fiery red hair become the game's face and Skelly  used Eva's blog to construct a power point presentation telling the story of CF to help recruit players, volunteers and sponsors.

More than a year later the 40 roster positions are filled with players from around Metro Vancouver, one from Victoria and two from Ontario. Volunteers include first aid attendants, timekeepers and even a chef from the Delta hotel in Richmond who's taking his vacation to cook all the meals during the marathon. Save-On Foods is donating all the groceries and Canlan Ice Sports is contributing the ice time as well as a conference room that will be converted into a lounge in which players can rest and relax between their four and eight hour playing shifts.

But with a week to go until game time, there's still a million little details to worry about. Many of the players are still fundraising, holding burger 'n beer nights, private movie screenings and bottle drives. Playlists of music that will be pumped into the arena to keep players energized at 3 a.m. are still being constructed. A closed circuit monitoring system that shows the ice and the time clock is being devised so authorities at Guinness can verify the world record.

And that's where those 15 seconds come in. Guinness rules allow a precise 10-minute break every hour during marathon world record attempts, but the ice cleaning machines at 8-Rinks are set up to scrape and flood a rink in about 10 minutes and 15 seconds. That means their timing will have to be adjusted while still keeping it safe for the operators.

Playing hockey for 10 straight days may seem daunting, says Skelly, but the aches and pains the players are likely to endure pale compared to the struggle to stay alive faced by those with CF.

The Longest Game for CF begins at 8 a.m., Fri. Aug. 26 and ends Sunday, Sept. 4. Skelly's father will drop the first puck, and Bill Markvoort will drop the puck to begin the last session. For more information, go to www.longestgame4cf.com

 

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