Sportsideo was built by passionate sports professionals on just a few
basic principles. The sites creators believe that sports help people lead both happier and healthier lives, and that participating in sports will help improve the bonds and understanding between all people.
In 2003, Sportsideo’s Director of Organizational Development, Sam Paolini, was the recipient of college hockey’s Humanitarian Award during his senior season at Cornell University for his countless philanthropic efforts both on campus and throughout the Central New York community. The honor is given annually to the player who “gives back to their community in the true humanitarian spirit.” Sam is one of millions of examples of athletes whose lives were enriched through sports and in turn, were able to help others as a result of the many gifts athletics had granted them.
Earlier this month, Yale Women’s Hockey forward Aleca Hughes was honored with the 2012 BNY Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award. Hughes was also a finalist for the award in 2011 after spearheading efforts on campus, in the city of New Haven, and across the hockey community, to raise awareness about leukemia and to help find bone marrow matches for her teammate, Mandi Schwartz. Mandi’s story was nothing short of inspiring. Inspiring in the way Mandi handled adversity. Inspiring in the way she and her teammates, led by Aleca, came together for not just her good, but the good of those suffering from the disease everywhere.
As Aleca wraps up her academic career at Yale, she was kind enough to take the time to sit down with us an answer a few questions about her incredible philanthropic work, those who have inspired her, and the unbreakable bonds she has gained through sports.
Rink Round Up: One of the core beliefs that has always inspired the creators of Sportsideo is that the impact of sports goes far beyond the playing field. How have sports helped you lead a better, more fulfilling life?
I love everything about sports. I was lucky enough to play a variety sports throughout my youth, and focused in on field hockey, hockey and lacrosse throughout my high school career. As much as I enjoyed field hockey and lacrosse, it was an easy decision for me to play college hockey when I was presented the opportunity. I love the game of hockey. Everyone in my family plays and it has always been an integral part of my life.
Hockey has allowed me to live a more fulfilling life on many different levels. Through the game I have learned the rewards of hard work, the joys of a shared team success, and the grace of resiliency in the face of adversity. I love aspiring for a team goal that transcends the individual; I love winning; and I love competing.
As captain of the Yale Women's Ice Hockey Team I learned many invaluable lessons regarding leadership and citizenship. Also, as a Yale student-athlete, I have learned the importance of giving back, and the responsibility that comes with being a role model within the community.
RRU: Teams are collections of different people who work toward a common direction. Tell us about the bonds sports have helped you create with a diverse group of people.
Playing hockey at Yale has been a true gift. I have been lucky enough to play with talented athletes with unique life experiences. Working alongside people who come from different walks of life on a daily basis has provided me with a broader perspective.
RRU: Mandi Schwartz’s story has had an influence on many people. The two of you grew up in drastically different environments, her being from Saskatchewan and you from Massachusetts, but obviously enjoyed a very powerful bond. What was your relationship like with Mandi and what effect did she have on you as an athlete and human being?
Mandi was a junior when I was a freshman. I immediately admired her work ethic and kind personality when I joined the team. She was the first person on the ice and the last to leave. Her quiet determination and wholesome personality set a great example for me when I first arrived at Yale.
I was fortunate enough to be Mandi's linemate before she got sick. During that time I learned from her as a hockey player and friend. While Mandi was receiving treatments in Seattle and in Saskatchewan, our bond strengthened as we worked together to spread her story as a means to raise awareness and help others who were fighting leukemia.
Mandi has had and will continue to have a great effect on me as a human being. She taught me the beauty of grace and the significance of making the difference in the lives of others. She also reminds me to work hard and persevere on a daily basis. I have a picture of her riding a spin bike in a hospital room in my locker at the rink and in my dorm room. Mandi was determined to keep peddling-- So am I.
RRU: Hockey is the ultimate team sport. You had a lot of help from your teammates as you raised both awareness and funds over the past two years. Tell us about the team efforts that led to receiving this prestigious award.
The two biggest events the Yale Women's Ice Hockey Team hosts in Mandi's honor are The Annual Marrow Donor Registry Drive & The Annual White Out for Mandi.
On April 19th, we held our Annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Drive at Yale. Over the past few years, the women's ice hockey team, football team, and field hockey team have worked together to host Marrow Registry Drives with “Be The Match”. Over the last 3 years, we have added over 3,000 people to the registry and produced six life saving matches. Our annual drive is an incredible event. All the teams work together to promote and host the event, while the whole Yale community and greater New Haven community come out to the support our efforts. We've held record breaking drives and have had incredible amounts of success each year.
In addition, our hockey team has hosted 2 annual 'White Out for Mandi' hockey games. These games have also been very successful. We try to pack Ingalls Rink with hockey fans and Mandi's admirers in white #17 t-shirts. Throughout the game we raise funds through an autographed NHL jersey and sports memorabilia auction, t-shirt sales, and flat donations. We also raise money through pledges. Donors pledge a certain amount of money per fan to attend the game. So the more people that come out and watch, the more money we raise. The game begins with a celebratory ceremony to honor Mandi's legacy as well as a ceremonial puck drop given by our 'adopted' teammate, Giana Cardonita.
RRU: There are a lot of good people in sports (and especially hockey) who reach out to help others. Where did your passion for philanthropy begin?
Mandi aspired to make a difference in the lives of others. Watching her fight for her life was life changing. When Mandi first needed a perfect bone marrow match or cord blood donation, there was something tangible we could do about it. Through hosting marrow registry drives and reaching out to Eastern European communities in North America to promote the importance of cord blood donation, we could make a difference. Although these efforts were started in response to Mandi's sickness they did not stop after she received a cord blood donation.
Even though Mandi's cord blood donation did not work in the end, the efforts we started on her behalf helped so many other people, as evidenced by those six life saving matches. Also, the drives provide hope to other families looking for a perfect match. Lastly, cord blood donation is a new technology, so promoting its value to expectant mothers is a very rewarding experience.
I truly love giving back to others and making a difference in the community. Once the ball was rolling, the journey became incredibly empowering--and it has only just begun.
RRU: What plans do you have to continue your philanthropic efforts in the years to come?
Aleca Hughes: I plan to grow the Mandi Schwartz Foundation with the help of our current board and through a variety of other resources. The foundation is just in its budding phases. We have goals and plans to grow our endowment and take initiative. I am eager to help other hockey families in need and to continue to give back. This work is now deeply rooted in who I am.
RRU: Aleca embodies so many things that are great about sports and the human spirit. Her experiences in athletics and desire to improve the lives of others epitomize so much of what this site is all about. The team at Sportsideo would like to thank Aleca for taking the time to share her story and inspire us all.
Photo courtesy of Sam Rubin