In western Canada, above the sometimes forgotten states of Montana and North Dakota, there is a province called Saskatchewan. The winters are cold and the summers are hot. Towns are linked by the railway, two-lane highways, gravel road and the local hockey rink, the community’s focal point. In Wilcox, a town of just over 300 people, you’ll find a school known worldwide for its student-athletes, specifically in ice hockey. Alumni include Hockey Hall of Famers like Curtis Joseph, Jason Kenny and the Boston Bruins’ Gord Kluzak. It’s also the home of my late friend and Yale Bulldog, Mandi Schwartz.
My high school, Athol Murray College of Notre Dame (ND), has sent over a dozen hockey players to Yale in the last 30 years or so. I came in fall 2005 and Mandi a year later in 2006. I humbly admit that Mandi was a much better hockey player than I was — mainly because she could score goals while I just hit people and made decent breakout passes.
Just like Yale has its “Lux et Veritas” motto, ND’s “Luctor et Emergo” (Struggle and Emerge) is something that students sweat, bleed and cry. You carry it with you the rest of your life. And it became Mandi’s go-to mantra as she left Saskatchewan during mid-harvest for the fall colors of New England. Coming from a town of 300 to a campus with 300 students in one dorm alone can be intimidating, but Mandi struggled and emerged.
Mandi quickly gained a reputation on Yale’s ice hockey team for being a tireless worker, both on and off the ice. Often the first in the gym and at the rink, Mandi used every day as an opportunity to better herself. Working at the Yale Athletics Department’s Office, I’d often ask Mandi’s coaches how she was doing. They often responded, “I’m worried that she’s going to burn out.” But Mandi struggled and emerged and kept going.
I was immersed in minor professional hockey ranks in Fresno, Calif. when I got the news in early December 2008 that Mandi had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of bone marrow cancer. I, amongst many others, sent words of encouragement to Mandi as she went through rounds of chemotherapy back in wintery Saskatchewan. Mandi, ever the warrior, struggled, emerged and beat her cancer.
But cancer is like a game-winning overtime goal that gets waived off months after the last whistle is blown. Mandi’s second battle with AML began in April 2010 and became a war. We sent the rallying cry out to the global ice hockey community and thousands responded to her struggle by registering as bone marrow donors. Mandi’s story was featured on ESPN, Good Morning America and countless of publications around the globe. Mandi was struggling and we were trying our hardest to help her emerge. Unfortunately, on Jan. 5, 2011 we were told that no more could be done to help her and Mandi passed away three short months later on April 3, 2011. The struggle seemed to be over.
Yet, in the almost three years since that time, I still see Mandi emerging. I see Mandi emerge in the form of the bursary that was started at Notre Dame in her memory, supporting young ambitious student-athletes. I see Mandi emerge as her name continues to be the chorus for our rallying cry at events like “White Out For Mandi” this Friday at the Whale. I see her emerge through the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, which celebrates sports and encourages students to sign up for the bone marrow donor registry. And that’s where I see Mandi emerging most: in the lives of the 21 people who are still living today as a result of bone marrow transplants from donors who signed up because they wanted to share in Mandi’s struggle.
“Luctor et Emergo,” my school’s motto, emphasizes that adversity builds character. Mandi believed this, too: For every struggle, there is an emergence. While Mandi’s passing was a tragedy, the struggle against cancer still exists, and I hope that you are a part of the emergence.
Brennan Turner is a 2009 graduate of Pierson College.