Hockey players are renowned for being big, burly, tough, and strong. Take a puck to the face, go to the back, get a zipper and get back on the ice. Nothing sort of a broken limb that can't be splinted will prevent a warrior from returning the the game. The phrase " he's back on the ice... he's a hockey player" is almost cliche.
Hockey writers like to pretend they are tough by association, your humble author being no exception to that rule. I ride a Harley, I'm larger than the average bear, and not much gets to me. Even when it does, it usually becomes a target for snark and bitterness rather than sadness.
Even fewer things stop me in my tracks. My children crying, my wife screaming in fear, the sound of my father's voice cracking as he delivers bad news, a friend calling for help.
The news of a hero dying.
Like the vast majority of the hockey world, I never met Mandi Schwartz. I, like the vast majority of the hockey world, came to know her story only because of the darkness that entered her young life. Diagnosed with leukemia while playing hockey for Yale, Mandi's story was spread throughout the hockey world. While her brother Jaden's first round selection helped to put the spotlight on the story, Mandi was well known long before that.
Heck, when I was told of Jaden Schwartz, I was told, "he's Mandi's brother." That made more sense to me.
Not long after that draft, Mandi underwent a stem cell transplant that seemed the miracle everyone was hoping for. Things looked to be going well, and everyone following the story felt a sense of cautious relief. Then Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy, one of many champions of Mandi's story, broke the bad news to us in December: Mandi's cancer had returned.
Again, I never had the honor of meeting Mandi. I can't even explain to you why she meant so much to the world, or to me. Was it the fact she played hockey? Would she not have mattered if not for that fact? Maybe the hockey community wouldn't have latched on to her story, no, but Mandi's spirit quickly surpassed the fact that she was a hockey player.
It wasn't the hockey, it was Mandi. Hockey brought her to us, but if it had only been the hockey, her story wouldn't have stuck around for long. No, Mandi's will to live, her fight, her passion, and her pride caught the attention of everyone who read of her. Nothing would stop her from living life her way, cancer be damned.
While in the midst of their own fight, Mandi's family led the charge to reinvigorate the National Bone Marrow "Be the Match" drive. If nothing good would come of this, something good would, by God, come of this. I don't have numbers to show you for how many people signed up for the registry because of Mandi's story, but when Hockey Wilderness wrote and asked people to sign up, at least two did.
Two more people on the list that could potentially save a life, directly due to Mandi's story. I don't care how cynical you are, two is better than zero, and those two could be the two most important people to ever sign up for the list. You never know.
The man who brought Mandi's story to me, Greg Wyshynski, also brought me news of her passing. I had not read the news earlier in the day. After reading Wysh's tweet announcing the new story on Puck Daddy, I literally stopped in my tracks. Tears filled my eyes, and I did not know how to react.
I never met her. How the hell does this matter this much to me? I wanted to write about this last night, but it took me until this morning to find the words. She's a hero. Plain and simple, and when heroes leave, everyone cries.
Wysh said in his post, "Mandi Schwartz dies a hockey player, and an inspiration to other hockey players." True, but I think her inspiration goes well beyond just hockey players. She inspired the world.
She inspired this hockey writer. Her life brought this big, rough, tough, Harley riding hockey writer to his knees. Stopped me dead in my tracks on more than occasion, made me take note of the world around me, and sparked reminders to live life to the fullest.
The tears she brought to my eyes are completely selfish. It will bring no comfort to her family to know strangers are crying over Mandi's loss. Most of the people I know will never know of Mandi, nor her story. Still, she made the word a brighter place for people to live in, and now that light dims. Those tears are the very human way of dealing with that sad truth, and they are mine alone.
In a world with far too few true heroes, it hurts to lose one as powerful as Mandi. You will be missed, Mandi.
If you care to express you feelings, you can do so here, or over on Facebook. Also, Norton Sports Management is donating $1 to the leukemia and lymphoma society for everyone who retweets this message on Twitter:
but wanna get word out as #MMDM is in memory of #MandiSchwartz. Each RT will b $1 donation to @llsusa All Hockey world RT!!
You have Twitter? Make it happen.
If you really want to honor her memory, join the National Bone Marrow registry. You could save a life. You, too, could be a hero.