Daniel O’Neill can’t forget what it was like to watch his 17-year-old niece battle for her life.
Memories of the girl’s cancer diagnosis and how it affected his brother and sister-in-law stayed with him through the years, enough to prompt him to do something to help families going through similar struggles.
Strathcona County recently recognized O’Neill for the steps he’s taken to make a difference in the lives of children with cancer, honouring him with the Mayor’s Award at the recent 2018 Pride of Strathcona Awards.
In 2015, O’Neill organized his first fundraiser for the Kids with Cancer Society, putting his feet to the pedals for a day straight on a stationary bicycle at Exist Fitness in Sherwood Park. The 24-hour indoor cycling fundraiser, now an annual event, has raised close to $40,000 in four years to support children and families dealing with cancer. The Kids with Cancer Society provides a large range of services to children and their families from diagnosis onward.
“I'm going to do something with the talents I've got. I can ride a bike. And if it makes some money and it makes a difference in a family's life, then that's pretty worthwhile to me,” O’Neill said, adding that the event has grown so much he has had to enlist the help of an organizing committee.
O’Neill keeps a full schedule, working full-time for Strathcona County, raising his children, training in endurance sports and coaching other athletes. He is currently spending about two hours a day preparing for an upcoming duathlon and 50 km trail run. He is also an author, with his second book release expected by the end of July.
“Everything keeps me busy but you prioritize and you organize your time. And again, I've just been blessed in life with the opportunity to do all this stuff. So it's pretty nice to be able to do it," he said.
Pride of Strathcona is an annual awards ceremony that recognizes outstanding residents of Strathcona County. The Mayor’s Award, the highest honour handed out, goes to a person or group achieving a level of excellence that is recognized beyond the county’s borders.
O’Neill, whose niece is now a thriving adult, was surprised to find out he had been chosen as this year’s Mayor’s Award recipient. He said the award ceremony was phenomenal.
“It's so well done. It's kind of like being a star for a night. It was fantastic," he said, pointing out that the honour wasn’t his alone. “It's a huge community of people that have made the ride what it is. So we were able to celebrate as group, which was very nice."