Memories of classmate reflected in Montrose mural, road races

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MEDFIELD – On May 6, the Montrose School’s class of 2016 will present a hand-painted mural that spans an entire wall of the cafeteria and features one very special former classmate as a remembrance from the community of her peers.

Under a blue sky and rolling green hills made up of the handprints of classmates, a young girl dressed for a Montrose soccer match runs across the sward, tugging a cluster of brightly colored balloons. The figure represents Elizabeth Schickel, who would’ve turned 18 that May week. But she died in February 2014 after a year-long fight with an aggressive brain tumor.

“We wanted to try to be connected with Elizabeth as much as possible,” said Clara Cahill Farella, 18, a friend and classmate of Schickel. Farella spearheaded the mural project. “It’s dedicated from the seniors to the school, so other girls who come to Montrose will know who she is.”

The mural at the Montrose School in Medfield. (Photo courtesy Clara Cahill Farella)

The mural at the Montrose School in Medfield. (Photo courtesy Clara Cahill Farella)

The painting also shows how the Montrose community came together in tragedy to produce a reflection on the beauty of their classmate’s life and the love they had for her. Schickel was 14 when she was diagnosed with cancer in January 2013, but friends and family say it was she who bolstered them as they tried to comfort her.

Known for a gentle, kind nature, Schickel became fiercely competitive on the lacrosse or soccer field and the basketball court. Her battle with cancer drew together her family of nine, her community at the Medfield all-girls school and neighbors in her home town of Natick and the nearby town of Watertown.

“The Montrose community was really in a state of shock,” said Sylvia Fernandez del Castillo, a Newton mother of nine and a family friend with a son the same age as Elizabeth. “There was nothing that the Schickels needed – nothing – that someone wouldn’t step up to the plate and do many times over. Montrose is such a tight-knit and faith-based community. Everyone at Montrose was just magnificent.”

Fellow students participated in a bike ride to raise awareness for brain cancer. And when Elizabeth was too ill to attend classes, schoolmates wore bandanas each Friday in support. They even made t-shirts and wristbands with the slogan: #PrayersforSchickel.

“She had more energy than I think anybody has in their entire life,” said Margaret Sparicio, 18, one of Schickel’s closest friends at school. “She always wanted to be up and doing something. Even during chemo, she made Valentines for all the girls in our grade, and birthday cards. She was always thinking of others; she was always going.”

Not only did Schickel’s class support her, but the girls she had played against in sports sent her emails describing how she had affected their lives, according to her older sister, Elysha, 27. Friends sent over meals for months and pitched in to foot medical bills, both strangers and acquaintances participated in daily prayers for her. They set up a website through Lotsa Helping Hands to help coordinate efforts.

A strong athlete, Schickel dominated any sport she played. She kept moving even as she lost a significant portion of her physical ability. At one point as she re-learned to walk, she told her family: “Once I can run again, I’m never going to stop.”

A version of that statement scrolls out, in Schickel’s handwriting, beneath the mural.

The Schickel family at the 5K in 2015. Left to right: Elysha Schickel, Ben Schickel, Therese Schickel, Catherine Schickel, Abe Schickel, Hannah Schickel, Kathy Schickel, Maria Schickel. (Photo courtesy of Karen McCall Photography)

The Schickel family at the 5K in 2015. Left to right: Elysha Schickel, Ben Schickel, Therese Schickel, Catherine Schickel, Abe Schickel, Hannah Schickel, Kathy Schickel and Maria Schickel. (Photo courtesy of Karen McCall Photography)

Another memorial in her memory gives members of the broader community the chance to commemorate her fighting spirit: the annual Run Like a Maverick 5K race. Organized by family and friends, the fundraiser takes place for the third consecutive year on May 1, the day before Schickel’s birthday. Last year, 300 runners participated.

The money raised goes toward the Elizabeth Mary Clare Schickel scholarship fund that finances young women to attend Montrose.

“Elizabeth’s life meant something,” said Fernandez del Castillo. “Her example was so extraordinary.”

“She was faced with enormous odds against her and she never lost hope,” the family friend said. “We’re trying to raise funds to encourage girls to grow in strength and courage and everything that made Elizabeth who she was.”

The race starts and finishes at the school, where there will be family-friendly games, activities and food on the race day. Register here for the 5K as well as a 1-mile race and a Kids Fun Run or to donate to the scholarship fund. Elysha Schickel said the events provide the family with a way to give back to the community.

“We are gathering in memory of Elizabeth,” Elysha said. “This is something she would have loved. She was so enthusiastic about everything she encountered. This is the best way to pay tribute to her, doing something she would have loved to do herself.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.