Second Annual Ice Out Alz Fundraiser Eight Days Away
David Creed •
It is estimated that 6.5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people who are impacted indirectly as they are forced to watch their loved ones succumb to the incurable disease far exceeds that tally. AJ Mleczko and her family can speak firsthand about the challenges that come from nurturing and caring for a loved one suffering from Alzheimers as Mleczko’s mother, Bambi, continues to battle the disease six years after her initial diagnosis at the age of 69.
“It is so devastating on so many levels, for my Mom the most but for all of us watching her battle this irreversible disease,” Mleczko, an island native, said. “It has progressed very rapidly in the wrong way since last summer. She turned 75 last February so it also just feels unfairly young to have lost as much of her as we have.”
The second annual Ice Out Alz fundraiser, which raises funds for the Alzheimer’s Association, will take place next Thursday, July 28, at Cisco Brewers from 7:30-9:30 p.m. The event raised $225,000 (gross) last year and was founded by Mleczko.
The event will be essentially the same as last year, with a cornhole tournament taking place, only Boston Cornhole will be handling the hosting and operation duties of the tournament. There will also be food and drinks.
"That will make it more of a tournament, which is great," Mleczko said. "I found that last year, as great as it was and casual, I felt like for me personally and maybe selfishly, it was hard for me to give it the attention it needed in terms of organizing it while talking to people about something as emotional and personal as Alzheimers is. When it comes to meeting and hearing from people you are meeting for the first time about how they are being impacted by the disease, I just didn’t think I could give (the cornhole tournament) my attention as a host/hostess.”
You can count former NHL defenseman and Stanley Cup Champion Hal Gill in as an attendant for the second consecutive year. Gill and Mleczko have been close friends since the 1990s when they trained together with Mike Boyle in Boston. Gill said that Bambi is the sweetest woman ever and that he wants to be there to support AJ, her family, and honor Bambi for all she has done.
“She was always around and every time I was around her she would light up a room,” Gill said. “Even fighting through this awful disease, she would light up a room. I feel like more and more people I talk to, everyone is affected by Alzheimers. It is a great opportunity to not only raise money for Alzheimer’s research but honor someone going through this battle. Bambi is honestly one of my favorite people in the world. I love being there for it, it is a great event, and Cisco is one of my favorite places in the world, as is Nantucket itself.”
Mleczko said Gill and his wife Anne have always been two of her mother’s favorites.
“My Mom always loved Hal and Anne and would always put them at her table when we did the seating chart for Charity on Ice years ago,” Mleczko said. “I think they sat at her table eight out of 10 years. I would always apologize that they had to sit with the old people.”
Gill’s mother in law is currently in the midst of a battle with Alzheimers. He said watching someone live through this disease is more painful than anything he has experienced.
“As a hockey player, I can take hits. I’ll break a leg no problem, but it is so frustrating and an entirely different challenge when your mind starts to go,” Gill said. “It makes everything so miserable for them and the people around them. This is an opportunity to do some good and honor an amazing woman.”
ESPN anchor and broadcaster John Buccigross will be another friend of Mleczkos in attendance. He said AJ is one of his favorite people and that he enjoys every interaction he has with her. The two ESPN personalities have gotten to know each other quite well over the past 12 months, working many NHL games together for ESPN, who began broadcasting hockey for the first time in 16 years this past season following a seven-year rights agreement that was finalized in 2021.
“She’s an excellent wing person at work and postgame when we talk about the game and broadcast,” Buccigross said. “It was no problem saying yes last year after first meeting and again this year.”
“I like small, intimate get togethers where people can connect in a meaningful way,” he added after being asked about Ice Out Alz. “This event has that element. It gives everyone in attendance a good feeling to be there by making real connection and true impact.”
Mleczko said what has fascinated her is how much different each person’s battle with Alzheimers is. Her grandmother battled Alzheimers and never lost her words while Bambi lost her ability to speak a couple years ago.
“That has changed everything because we don’t know how far gone she is, how she is feeling, so it makes it more difficult,” Mleczko said. “It makes her seem like she is more far gone than she is or maybe she isn’t as far gone and we just don’t know because she can’t communicate with words.”
She said getting people together for this event can be therapeutic.
“It is one of those things going through this where it can be therapeutic to meet other people, talk to other people at the event who maybe I have never even met before, but they either have lost someone to the disease or have someone who was just diagnosed, and that it may be helpful for them to also be part of something like this,” Mleczko said. “There is not much we can do to change the course of the disease for my Mom, but to try to make some tiny bit of difference is somewhat therapeutic. Whether we can or not, or whether there are real advancements made in our lifetimes, I don’t know. But I am optimistic we are on the precipice of some good scientific advancements.”
You can donate to the fund or purchase a ticket by clicking here.