The story of Mandi Schwartz ’11 stirred a national wave of cancer awareness and advocacy before she died of leukemia in early April. Now, her teammates are taking steps to ensure that her legacy continues to aid and inspire cancer patients.
About 100 people gathered in Calhoun College on Wednesday night for a service to commemorate Schwartz, whose number 17 jersey hung in the dining hall. Members of the women’s hockey team, clad in their white home uniforms, filled the seats, and seniors Lili Rudis ’11, Bray Ketchum ’11, Jackee Snikeris ’11 and Samantha MacLean ’11 spoke about Schwartz. The service was held on the eve of the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drive, which Yale Athletics will hold in honor of Schwartz, who battled acute myeloid leukemia for 27 months.
“I hope Mandi is remembered not for how she died, but how she lived,” said Harry Rosenholtz, a former Yale coach who recruited Schwartz and now works at Quinnipiac. “I think the impact that Mandi’s life at Yale had is something that will be remembered for generations. It was because of her goodness, because of the way she lived her life that she inspired so many people.”
In his opening remarks at the Calhoun service for Schwartz, Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway asked his students if there is not beauty to be found in “the ugly truth” of Schwartz’s early passing. Regardless, he said, it would be better to have Schwartz well and among those who cared about her.
The service was held just hours before the bone marrow drive — a now annual event that the women’s hockey and football teams first hosted in April 2009 to support Schwartz, who had been diagnosed with leukemia the previous December. The past two drives have added more than 1,600 people to the Be The Match registry run by the National Marrow Donor Program, with attendees coming from all corners of the University and from New Haven. Yale’s 2010 drive registered 921 people — a national record for participation.
Rosenholtz said Schwartz’s struggle has helped to unite the athletic community with the rest of Yale’s student body.
“I think a lot of times student-athletes at Yale are looked upon as being here strictly because of their athletic ability, and not necessarily because of their academic horsepower,” Rosenholtz said. “But in Mandi’s case, nothing has been farther from the truth, and Mandi has been the instrument to help bridge this divide because of the way she has inspired everyone.”
In addition to continued efforts with the bone marrow drive, women’s hockey player Aleca Hughes ’12 said she and Schwartz’s family, Rosenholtz, and members of the Yale Athletics community are in the initial stages of setting up a foundation to honor Schwartz’s life and legacy. The foundation will aim to raise awareness about leukemia, bone marrow and stem cell transplants, umbilical cord donations and stem cell research, Rosenholtz said.
“We’re still narrowing down and defining our message,” said Hughes, whose leading role in promoting Schwartz’s cause helped earn her a spot among the finalists for the 2011 Hockey Humanitarian Award — an accolade granted each year to one NCAA hockey player.
Rosenholtz said he, Hughes, and the others are moving as quickly as possible to start the foundation. The legal work is already underway and next step is to raise money to fund activities, he added.
For now, Hughes said the best way people can honor Schwartz’s legacy is to attend the bone marrow drive.
“In the end, you want as many people as possible to know about bone marrow or cord blood donation, so that they can help people who struggle with the same thing that Mandi did,” she said.
The Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drive will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Commons today.