TAMPA -- The 2012 Hockey Humanitarian Award for college hockey's finest citizen, sponsored by BNY Mellon Wealth Management, was presented Friday afternoon to Yale senior captain Aleca Hughes, a native of Westwood, Mass.
Since its inception in 1996, the Humanitarian Award recognizes the college hockey student-athlete, Division I or III, male or female, who gives back to their communities in the true humanitarian spirit.
Hughes' compassion, tenacity and leadership inspired by teammate Mandi Schwartz's courageous battle with leukemia forged the committee's decision-making in selecting her.
"If you do what you do with heart and passion, it becomes infectious and motivates others."
-- Yale senior captain Aleca Hughes
Hughes, who skated on the same line with Schwartz to begin her freshman season in 2008-09, became immediately involved with her junior teammate's challenges when diagnosed that December; Schwartz would not rejoin the team until the following season.
That dedicated return and will to fight the disease inspired Hughes to create initiatives toward a cure for her teammate.
For the past two years, Hughes organized the "White Out for Mandi" fundraisers at Yale's Ingalls Rink. The first event raised over $20,000 to assist the Schwartz family in medical expenses.
Unfortunately, Schwartz lost her battle with cancer in April 2011.
She was the sister of former Colorado College star Jaden Schwartz, who recently signed an entry-level contract with St. Louis and scored the game-winning goal in his NHL debut March 17 against the Lightning.
This past year, Hughes led her teammates for a second White Out, raising over $30,000 to establish the Mandi Schwartz Foundation dedicated to both helping current cancer and to fund cancer research.
Raising money, however, was only one of Hughes' efforts to assist Mandi and the Schwartz family. She also took time-intensive research to find a bone-marrow match for Mandi. While unsuccessful at the time, it led to increased awareness for a national bone-marrow registry. Taking the next step, Hughes and teammates hosted three "Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drives" in New Haven, Conn.
These increased the national registrants by more than 2500 additional names. Six matches resulted to save six lives.
Hughes' compassion, tenacity and leadership inspired by teammate Mandi Schwartz's battle with leukemia forged the committee's decision-making in selecting her. (Photo: Yale University)
Chuck Long, a senior director at BNY Mellon Wealth Management, said: "BNY Mellon encourages all of its employees to work for the common good, and we are proud to support an award honoring the community service of athletes like Aleca."
"What signifies true greatness lives within Aleca," said Mandi's mother, Carol Schwartz. "Our family will forever be grateful for the tremendous efforts she put forth to save Mandi's life. What better attribute can define the quality of a human being?"
Hughes' fight against cancer goes deeper still. She spearheaded many other charitable initiatives, including the Bulldog Buddies program, which has connected Yale athletic teams with young brain tumor patients.
One is 10-year-old Giana with whom the Lady Bulldogs continue to spend time as their adopted teammate after her recent brain cancer surgery.
"Aleca has really been there for me," Giana said. "It's awesome to have her take the time to hang with me, especially when I'm feeling sick, scared or sad."
"Losing Mandi was devastating," Hughes said. "Yet the magnitude of her life has been larger than life. I think she would be humbled by the profound impact her story continues to have through fundraising and marrow drives."
What are Hughes' hopes for these efforts and the Humanitarian Award?
"If you do what you do with heart and passion, it becomes infectious and motivates others," she said.