Sunday was the fun part for Lyndsey Fry, though 96 miles on rollerblades in one day might not sound fun for a lot of people.
Thousands of dollars to provide financial assistance to girls interested in playing hockey in Arizona had been raised, and continues to come in. The video promos at Gila River Arena on game nights had already been shown. Fry’s training, extended when the original day of Fry’s epic long skate around the Valley was moved back a month, was complete.
As the sun came up on a glorious winter day in Phoenix, goals had been reached, the word was out all over the area, and “Skatin’ for Leighton” was off and rolling.
“It’s overwhelming how happy I feel thinking about the fact that so many people care about this little girl and everything she inspired,” Fry said.
Fry’s ultra marathon rollerblade from Phoenix Children’s Hospital to Gila River Arena, a circuitous route with stops at seven other Valley ice rinks, raised money for the Leighton Accardo Scholarship Fund in honor of young Leighton, a youth hockey player who died of cancer last November after a brave and lengthy fight.
Leighton Accardo touched the lives of so many throughout the Coyotes organization. The team became close with Leighton and her family, and her simple message delivered to the team in the locker room before a game one night last season, “Skate hard and have fun,” resonated with the players.
Fry, the Coyotes’ Director of External Engagement & Female Hockey and president of the Arizona Kachinas Hockey Association, built a strong friendship with the Accardos, and came up with the idea for a skate before Leighton’s passing. She’d envisioned the Accardo family being part of a community-wide celebration, with her pushing Leighton in an athletic stroller through the streets and down the roads of the Valley for a good cause.
All but the part including Leighton’s physical presence happened on Sunday.
At every stop, the Accardos, youth hockey players and their families and Coyotes fans were there to cheer on Fry. A sheriff’s detail of vehicles provided an escort all along the way. Fry’s family followed her progress, and Coyotes Chief Hockey Development Officer Shane Doan and fellow broadcaster Tyson Nash joined her for different legs of the journey.
“To be able to do something so impactful, that literally is going to enable hundreds of little girls if not thousands over the years to play hockey and do something that Leighton loved, because of what a 9-year-old girl inspired, it’s amazing,” Fry said.
“I was absolutely floored when Lyndsey asked me to come out and give her some help,” Nash said. “We’re honoring Leighton and this was what she was all about. Having fun and working hard.
“It just shows you all of the love in the hockey community, that hockey is just one big family.”
Early Sunday, a sign in a sixth-floor window at Phoenix Children’s Hospital read “Way To Go Lyndsey.” At 7:33 a.m., after some hugs from the Fry and Accardo families, Fry and the Accardo kids skated under an inflatable archway and turned east on Thomas Road, smiles on their faces.
“She wanted to do something to honor Leighton,” said Carly Accardo, Leighton’s mother. “It means a lot to us. It’s comforting to know that Leighton won’t be forgotten.”
The Accardos had held a celebration of Leighton’s life on Friday at the local baseball field where she played.
“Leighton was just one of those naturally athletic kids. She was a phenomenal skater and a hockey player and a baseball player,” Carly Accardo said. “She was a competitor. She was good at everything she did.”
Accardo was asked what Leighton would have said to Fry before embarking on 96 miles of skating.
“Leighton would just tell her she can do it, because she knows she can.”
As morning turned into early afternoon, Fry turned into the parking lot at the Coyotes Community Ice Center in Mesa — which she’d helped dedicate last October with Leighton joining the ceremony via remote video — to cheers and applause from a large group of kids and adults at the official home for the Kachinas.
Fry was emotional at seeing so many people supporting her. A day that begin in darkness doing media interviews before she started skating ended about 15 hours later when she wheeled up to Gila River Arena.
“I roll in here and it’s great people are cheering, but it’s not about me. This is all about her, they’re out here for her, and I think it’s so amazing to see,” Fry said. “Especially these young girls who were so excited to get to play with her this season and weren’t able to, to be out here supporting and remembering her is incredible.”
Fry said Skatin’ for Leighton will become an annual event. One of her lasting memories of Leighton was one of the last times she skated with the Kachinas, not long after a surgery and cancer treatment.
Leighton skated the entire hour and finished second in a drill, and Fry recalled how upset Leighton was at not winning a race down the ice. It said a lot about her competitive spirit and the positive attitude despite her condition.
“We’re going to do it. For us, the most important thing is to make sure that Leighton’s memory and her legacy lives on,” Fry said. “This is our way of being able to do that, and kind of our promise to her family. She was an amazing kid and impacted so many of us in so many different ways. This is something we want to do forever, and that’s kind of my personal vow, is as long as I’m here, we’re going to do something like this every single year.”
Coyotes vs. Anaheim Ducks, Monday, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Arizona-Plus, Fox Sports 910 AM
Update: The Coyotes (7-7-3) have won four of their last five home games against the Ducks, but have lost four of their last five games overall with two losses in overtime. If D Ilya Lyubushkin plays it would be his 100th career NHL game. The native of Russia would become the eighth active and 39th defenseman born in modern-day Russia to reach the 100-game milestone, according to the Coyotes. F Conor Garland has 25 points in his last 25 games at Gila River Arena. D Oliver Ekman-Larsson is two assists away from ninth place on the franchise’s career assists list. The Ducks (6-9-3) do not have a single player who has registered double figures in points. Arizona has six. Anaheim recalled top prospect Trevor Zegras from their AHL affiliate in San Diego, so the 19-year-old forward could make his NHL debut as soon as Monday.