Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Aleca Hughes (Westwood, Mass.), a junior forward on the Yale women's ice hockey team whose efforts to help save lives have been inspired by her teammate Mandi Schwartz' battle with cancer, has been named a finalist for the 2011 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award. She is the fifth Yale women's ice hockey player to be named a finalist for the award, which seeks to recognize male or female college hockey players at the Division I or Division III levels who give back to their communities in the true humanitarian spirit. She is one of eight finalists who were selected from a pool of 25 nominees nationwide.
Mandi's ongoing battle with cancer has inspired many, particularly those in the hockey community, but Aleca has gone far above and beyond the call of duty. Her efforts to raise awareness of the need for bone marrow donors and cord blood donors, along with raising funds for Mandi and her family, have been instrumental in Mandi's battle and will help save the lives of countless patients with life-threatening illnesses. And Aleca has done it all while excelling in many other areas as well. A part of Yale's top scoring line, Aleca has been among the Bulldogs' leading scorers each season she has been at Yale. She also excels in the class room, posting a 3.50 cumulative GPA. She will earn her third ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team selection this season.
Mandi has been battling cancer for more than two years, having been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December of 2008. Chemotherapy initially got her into remission in the spring of 2009, and she was able to return to Yale in January of 2010. But when she relapsed that spring, it became clear that she would need a stem cell transplant -- essentially, a new immune system -- to survive. Mandi, like 70 percent of patients seeking donors, was unable to find a genetic match for her transplant among her family members. She thus had to turn to the public registries, and for several months it appeared that she did not have an appropriate genetic match. It is estimated that there are 16,000 patients diagnosed with leukemia each year who cannot find matching donors.
Aleca's involvement has gone beyond joining community service initiatives -- she has started them. She and her Yale women's ice hockey teammates have already been a part of organizing two record-setting bone marrow donor drives at Yale that added more than 1,600 potential donors to the National Marrow Donor Program's "Be The Match" registry. To date, at least four genetic matches for patients in need of life-saving transplants have been identified through those drives. The drives take place annually; the 2011 drive is scheduled for Thursday, Apr. 21.
Once it became clear this past summer that Mandi was in urgent need of a stem cell transplant, Aleca became part of a world-wide effort to raise awareness of the need for bone marrow donors and umbilical cord blood donors. Mandi's story was featured on ESPN, ABC News and CBS News, among others. Aleca distributed literature to OB-GYNs at various places she traveled to throughout the summer, educating expectant parents about the need for umbilical cord blood donors. She also contacted media outlets to get stories printed that raised awareness of the need. She then took her involvement one step further by working with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to start a bone marrow donor testing drive and a fund raiser for Mandi based around the Chowder Cup hockey tournament in Massachusetts.
Once school was back in session in the fall, Aleca followed up her work from the summer by organizing the Yale women's ice hockey team's "White Out for Mandi" fund raiser in November, which attracted a record crowd of more than 1,000 people to Ingalls Rink for Yale's game vs. RPI. Aleca got special t-shirts designed, printed and sold for the event; promoted the event through the media, including NHL.com; and also organized a silent auction that included items from teams (New York Rangers, Boston Red Sox) and players (Bobby Orr, Mark Recchi, Patrick Kane). The two fund raisers that Aleca organized have raised more than $22,000 for Mandi and her family.
Those events for Mandi are only part of what makes Aleca a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. She also helps coach a Yale Youth Hockey team and participates in numerous other community service initiatives. She and her Yale teammates have recently "adopted" a nine-year old girl, Giana, who is recovering from surgery for a brain tumor. Aleca regularly takes the time out of her busy schedule to visit Giana, who just recently returned to school as a fourth grader. Giana is the first adoptee in the recently created program, known as "Bulldog Buddies", that pairs Yale athletic teams with young brain tumor patients.
The Yale women's ice hockey team has a well-established tradition of community service in general, including four previous Hockey Humanitarian Award finalists -- Julianna Schantz-Dun '00, Deanna McDevitt '03, Kristin Savard '07 (who won the award in 2007) and Crysti Howser '09. No other school in the country has had more finalists. Aleca has been involved in many team-organized events such as Youth Days, Skate with the Players and ECAC Hockey's 2008-09 "Pink at the Rink" fund raiser for cancer research. She is her team's representative for Yale Athletics' Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program, coordinating events such as a holiday gift-giving initiative for underprivileged families in the New Haven area. She is also a member of Athletes in Action, a group of Christian student-athletes that meets weekly and performs various community service initiatives.
Recognizing her leadership potential, Aleca has also taken part in Yale Athletics' Kiphuth Leadership Academy, a program that develops Yale student-athletes to be world-class leaders in athletics, academics and life. As part of their participation in the Academy, student-athletes work closely with peer groups to learn, develop and practice skills associated with successful leadership qualities.
On the ice, Aleca has been among Yale's top four in goals, assists and points in each of her first three seasons, and she has 45 points (26 goals, 19 assists) for her career. She has not missed a game, and last year she earned Yale's Bulldog Award for team spirit. Aleca has also been a part of the USA Hockey program. She attended Open Olympic Tryouts in the summer of 2009.
Aleca is a graduate of Hotchkiss School, where she was team captain and All-New England. She also played for the Connecticut Stars, earning two bronze medals and one silver at Nationals. She comes from a family of hockey players. Her father, George, played for Harvard and is seventh on the Crimson's career scoring list. Her uncle, Jack, played for Harvard and the NHL's Colorado Rockies. Her mother, Allison, played for BU. Her older brother, George, plays at St. Lawrence, and her younger brother, Gunnar, has committed to play at St. Lawrence.
An American studies major, Aleca hopes to go to law school after graduation.
The winner of the 2011 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award will be introduced in a ceremony on Friday, Apr. 8 as part of the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn. This is the award's 16th year.