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'Skate Hard, Have Fun': Leighton Inspires Fry's Dedication

96-mile trek honors Leighton Accardo, raises money for girls hockey

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

When Lyndsey Fry crossed the finish line she embraced Leighton Accardo's siblings -- LeeAnne, Larson and Locke. Then she sought out Carly Accardo, Leighton's mother. The two held each other and cried.

Leighton Accardo's family - father Jeremy, too -- welcomed Fry at the finish line Sunday night at Gila River Arena, when Fry completed her 96-mile "Skatin' for Leighton" journey almost 14 hours after departing from the Phoenix Children's Hospital.

It finished just as it began; the family had been there when she set out, too.

"What better motivation than the kids who just are living and breathing everything that Leighton was," Fry said. "I mean, this is all for Leighton. So, to not include them would be crazy. It was amazing to have them at the start and finish."

Nine-year-old Leighton, honorary Coyotes teammate and "Hockey Fights Cancer" ambassador, passed away November 24 from Stage Four cancer. Leighton was first diagnosed in March 2018.

The original plan was for Fry to push Leighton along the route in an athletic stroller. "Although knowing (Leighton), she would have gotten out and walked and finished it on her own," Fry said.

"But when we knew Leighton was as sick as she was and she was running out of time, it was just a no-brainer to shift it all over to being about her," Fry said. "And using her memory to make a positive impact in our community and ensure that her legacy lives on in so many ways. 

"In nine years, she affected a lot more people than most of us will ever do in a lifetime."

Carly Accardo said the finish-line embrace was emotional. "That was a tough day for (Lyndsey). She was incredible, and we're really proud of her."

Said Fry: "Carly and I have had a few of those (hugs) over the months and the years. (She's) just the ultimate supermom, she just did so much. She just deserves all the love in the world -- the whole family does."

Fry's journey activated the Leighton Accardo Memorial Scholarship Fund for girls' hockey in Arizona. The goal was $49,000, matching Leighton's hockey No. 49. That goal was met - and far exceeded.

"I mean, that was the whole point, right?" Fry said. "The skating is cool. It was great to have everybody out there. But the whole point was to raise money. Now we get to continue to make an impact in something that Leighton loved. So, it's incredible."

Leighton's mom echoed Fry's sentiments.  

"Leighton loved meeting girls that played hockey," Carly said. "So, to bring more girls into this sport is incredible. It's grown so much over the last few years here in Arizona. So, to have that to help keep it going is going to be incredible." 

When Fry began mapping out the "Skatin' for Leighton" route, she discovered that stopping at every ice rink in the Valley would equate to 96 miles - and the number 96 has hockey significance in the Valley. The Coyotes, celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year, played their first season in Phoenix in 1996. 

Fry began her journey at the Phoenix Children's Hospital at approximately 7:30 a.m., where Leighton underwent most of her cancer treatment.

Fry's first stop was AZ Ice Arcadia, arriving just before 8 a.m.

She then headed south to Ice Den Chandler, arriving roughly 9:45 a.m. A crowd that included Coyotes service dog, Luna, cheered her on.

Next stop was east to AZ Ice Gilbert, where she arrived at 11 a.m. Fry stopped for a tune-up on her roller skates at the Behind the Mask pro shop and picked up Coyotes TV color commentator Tyson Nash. Nash joined Fry on the route to the Coyotes Community Ice Center in Mesa.

The stop at Coyotes Community Ice Center, where she arrived at 1:00 p.m., had special meaning, and not only because it is the official home of the Arizona Kachinas Girls Hockey Association, of which Fry is president.

It also marked mile 49 of the journey. Hundreds of people, including Kachinas players and parents, welcomed her. 

Fry then headed northwest to Oceanside Arena in Tempe, arriving at 2:00 p.m.

She picked up Coyotes Chief Hockey Development Officer Shane Doan, who joined her for the trek North to Ice Den Scottsdale. The two arrived in Scottsdale at 4:15 p.m., where Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, his wife, Jerrica, and his son, Xavi, greeted them.

Having Nash and Doan join her helped tremendously, Fry said.

"Having Tyson and Doaner, that just was an amazing experience," Fry said. "Two very different experiences, let me tell you. Different personalities. Tyson, we almost lost him a couple times out on the course. And then Doaner -- who better to kind of push you, like literally push -- he had his hand on my back at certain points and just kept me going. We had amazing talks and it was awesome."

The next stop was AZ Ice Peoria, marking the longest leg of the journey. Fry arrived at 7:45 p.m.

She finally crossed the finish line at Gila River Arena just after 9:15 p.m.

Hundreds had gathered at Westgate Plaza, outside the arena, to cheer for her. Fry said the support throughout was an inspiration.

"The crowds were huge," Fry said. "Especially toward the end. I needed them just to get that energy and stay external. Honestly, I was feeling like a rock star by the time I got to Ice Den Scottsdale. I was feeling great. Having people here, having all these kids who just hung out all day jumping from stop to stop, it was amazing." 

Carly Accardo said that the support showed the strength of the Arizona hockey community. "Every rink did their part to make sure they showed support today, and that means a lot."

Fry, a Division-I hockey player at Harvard and an Olympic Silver Medalist with Team USA, admits she battled some anxiety before strapping on her skates.

"When I woke up this morning, I'd love to say that I was like, 'Yep, no problem, I'm going to get through it, I can do this,'" Fry said. "But there was definitely doubt in my mind. I always think there is that little bit of fear that you're going to let people down, or (that I might) let Leighton down. So, I think just getting across the finish line is a lot of the emotion. Just to even get to do this in her honor is probably one of the greatest things I'll ever get to do."

And when things did get tougher, Fry said she leaned on Leighton's spirit.

"(Leighton) always saw the positive in everything," Fry said. "And I think that's really what kind of pulled me through: 'My foot hurts, but I'm over halfway there.' Just all the positives. Everything up to Scottsdale was an uphill climb, but I got to do it with Shane Doan, who's my childhood hero. So, I just kept trying to see the positives in everything, and I think that's really where I was drawing her energy from. Anytime I caught myself getting frustrated, I just reminded myself, 'Skate hard, have fun.' That put a smile on my face, and it made everything better."

As for the physical toll, Fry, who refueled with granola bars, gels, liquids and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, said, "The calves are fine. The hamstrings, hips, back, feet - those are a different story. I'm doing okay. The hamstrings got crushed at the end because of some bumpy roads. My left hip is -- I tore that hip in college, so that one's struggling a little bit. My back is hurting and my feet are hurting. But honestly, it's manageable, I'll be okay, I'm still upright."

Carly saw a lot of her daughter exemplified in Fry's journey.

"Leighton was just a competitor," she said. "She always worked hard and she always had fun, and everybody saw that. She was special and everybody noticed it. It's great to see the community come together and do what they can to honor her legacy."

Fry's lasting thoughts returned to the meaning of the sojourn.

"It's probably one of the most special things I'll ever get to do," Fry said. "Leighton probably would call me crazy. And, yeah, there were definitely some times where I kind of imagined she'd have something funny to say or make a joke or whatever. But, I hope, too, that she would be proud of me."

Lead Photo Credit: Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes // Second Photo Credit: Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes // Third Photo Credit: Lyndsey Fry - Arizona Coyotes // Fourth Photo Credit: Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes // Fifth Photo Credit (Nash and Doan): Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes // Sixth Photo Credit (Skating montage): Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes // Footer Photo Credit: Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes

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