Photo Provided

Manchester University softball and women’s basketball teams united to assist cancer patient Elizabeth Schilling (far right, with child in her arms) since a brain cancer diagnosis in December.
Photo Provided Manchester University softball and women’s basketball teams united to assist cancer patient Elizabeth Schilling (far right, with child in her arms) since a brain cancer diagnosis in December.
NORTH MANCHESTER – Athletics brings people together – teams often join forces to fight for something bigger than the self. As a faculty mentor for the women’s basketball and softball teams, Manchester University faculty member Dr. Heather Schilling, director of teacher education, knew the Spartans were on her team, but she never imaged how they would team up to fight for her.

In early December, Schilling received devastating news. Elizabeth, her 27-year-old daughter who was scheduled to have surgery to remove a brain tumor, was sent home. The tumor had turned into stage four brain cancer, and instead of surgery, Elizabeth was ordered to start chemotherapy and radiation immediately.

Schilling returned home from her trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to a heartwarming welcome.

“As I pulled into my drive after being gone for five days, I was immediately overcome with emotion,” recalled Schilling. “Emotion of immense gratitude. Coach Josh Dzurick and the student athletes had put up my Christmas tree and strategically placed a lighted dog and Christmas lights in my window. The plates of food under foil on my counter were still warm. They had timed their departure with my arrival. As if that wasn’t enough, all around my house were 40 or 50 post-it notes with positive affirmations, notes of love and Bible verses.”

The Manchester women’s basketball and softball student athletes have continued to offer Schilling gestures of encouragement. Student athletes leave her notes and stop in her office to offer hugs or check on her. Their kind gestures of coffee delivery, watching her dogs or sending uplifting text messages empower the professor to help her daughter face the battle for her life.

"The student athletes have also reminded me of my own advice, to live in the moment,” said Schilling. “He reminded me I am capable of anything, especially of helping my daughter navigate this journey with cancer. Dzurick’s student athletes show up time and again without being asked. They are living lives of service.”

On Feb. 21, four of Elizabeth’s high school classmates hosted a benefit dinner in her honor. They served over 300 people, a huge success. As if this wasn’t enough, all of the women’s basketball and softball players and their coaches volunteered their evening, setting up, serving, running the silent auction, greeting guests, and cleaning up.

“I know they were exhausted from their weeks of juggling practice, games, and school,” said Schilling. “And yet, they showed up enthusiastic, prepared, excited. Again, they created a homecoming for me. Seeing each of them in their Liz’s unexpected journey shirts reminded me of how interconnected we are, and how blessed I am by the relationships I have with these coaches and young women. In so many ways, they are my family.”

Elizabeth has finished six weeks of radiation, and continues to surprise her doctors by her strength, her resiliency and her purpose. She continues to gain strength knowing she has an army of Manchester University Spartans behind her.

“These young women and their coaches, as well as rest of the Manchester community, continue to make sure I know I am loved and supported,” remarked Schilling. “They continue to give of themselves in such selfless ways. They make the world a better place.”

The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) is proud to be #TheHeartOfD3, and share stories of how student athletes exemplify the mission of the NCAA Division III: Discover, Develop, Dedicate. This story is the first in the series, and an interactive version of this story can be found on the conference’s website, heartlandconf.org.