GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – When John Marcanotonio lost his mother, Mary, in 2016, it wasn’t sudden. It was the end of a long fight with Alzheimer’s Disease – a battle where things only grew more challenging as months turned into years.

“It’s devastating to watch a loved one lose all their capabilities,” Marcantonio recalled on Thursday. “The worst day of my life was when I realized my mother no longer knew who I was.”

Today, Marcantonio is spearheading a campaign that started with him and his friends after his mother’s passing. Starting the following summer, he and some companions began an annual tradition, hiking mountains in the Adirondack High Peaks from sun-up to sundown to raise money for the Northeastern New York chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. A member of the association’s board, Marcantonio has grown his summer solstice tradition from raising $5,000 annually to hitting $18,000 in 2021.

For a second year, Marcantonio is inviting locals all across northeastern New York to sign up to join the Paint the Peaks Purple campaign and hit the trails on June 21 – or anytime in June. You don’t have to be a 46er – someone who has climbed all of the Adirondack High Peaks – in order to help out. The campaign invites trailblazers of all ages and abilities to hike whatever they can, wherever they can, and share the donation link with their family and friends.

This year, the effort aims to raise $30,000. Marcantonio wears a pin on his lapel bearing the logo of the Alzheimer’s Association and says that the signifier has sparked its share of conversations that prove to him how widespread the impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be.

“When I tell him that this is the Alzheimer’s Association logo, everybody’s got a story. Everyone knows someone that has experienced the tragedy of diagnosis, and what that journey looks like.”

The Alzheimer’s Association holds a huge number of fundraisers across its regional organizations, which go to research and resources alike. Those resources were ones that Marcantonio turned to when he realized that he couldn’t care for his mother alone, and needed someone to help him find where to get her the care she needed.

The hiking idea was specifically hatched as a way to remember Marcantonio’s mother. As a child, Mary Marcantonio would hike with her own father up Prospect Mountain every Columbus Day.

Hiking wasn’t something that Mary and John shared in the same way, but Marcantonio’s mother was a walker until the end – something that her son still remembers with a smile. While living at Cronin High-Rise Apartments in Glens Falls, Mary became something of a local legend – one who could tear through a pair of sneakers in three months.

“She had a very distinct gait – she had scoliosis,” John recalled. “She would hike all day. I was very blessed that all of the local businesses owners, restaurants and shops knew me, and knew my mom. They would offer her to come in, have a drink of water, and they really helped me to keep her in independent living for as long as I could.”

On June 21, Marcantonio has plenty of hiking ahead of him. He and some companions – including the friends who have been along from the start – will hike Mt. Colden, the 11th-highest mountain in the Adirondacks, at a total elevation of 4,714 feet. On Wednesday, he kicked the season off with a trip to the Moreau Overlook trail.

Those looking to get a grasp on the right hike for them have plenty of options. Marcantonio suggests the Lake George 12, the Lake Placid 9, the Adirondack 29 and the Adirondack Fire Tower Trails – just as a few places to start. Those who register with the campaign online will be able to submit information on who is hiking with them and where they’re going and submit photos of the journey.

While the money raised goes towards resources – including a 24/7 phone support line for those who need someone to turn to in caring for a loved one – it also goes to research into curing the disease. It’s that research that matters most to Marcantonio. For him, the hike on “the longest day” is about the next generation to come.

“I have a son. He’s 11 years old. Hopefully by the time he’s 65 or older, this disease doesn’t exist anymore.”