On August 28, 2014, Elizabeth Maria Walsh, my ballet teacher, babysitter and close friend, sadly passed away. She was only 26 years old. I was so upset, I couldn’t contain my tears. Twenty minutes after I found out, I had to take a ballet class. I was so devastated, my first reaction was to go home. But as it got closer to the class, I thought about it more. Since Elizabeth showed so much bravery when she hurt so badly, I decided to honor her in that way. I took my ballet class holding in my tears, because I knew that’s what she would have wanted.
Elizabeth was a warrior. She was the bravest person I’ve ever met, and always will be. When I was 10 years old, she was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer. After six months of chemotherapy and radiation, she convinced herself and everyone around her that she would get better. And for a few months, she was better. I met up with her a lot. I remember her saying to me that everything would be okay, and not to worry. She came up with a name for herself, describing what she had to be from now on. She called herself "Luchadora" meaning warrior in Spanish. In fact, she wrote a book about Luchadora, a little who gets cancer and uses dancing to overcome it and beat the evil "Mr. C."
If anyone asks me what bravery is, I tell them the story of Luchadora. Though Elizabeth's experience was a terrible thing, good things came out of it. She was always a bright light anywhere she went and an inspiration to everyone who knew her.
Elizabeth taught me that life is what you make of it. It's important how you treat people and how you handle whatever challenges are thrown at you. You face them with bravery and love. Though she hit many rocks along her path, that just made her want to keep going more. She was never afraid, never sad, never angry--at least she didn't let us see it. She was beautiful and graceful and strong.
Elizabeth had a lot of love in that big heart of hers. Ever since I met her, she would greet me with a warm hug. She was a beautiful dancer. She was my Summerdance counselor at Ballet Academy East in NYC, and I remember her long, flowing black hair, even after it was gone. She shared her passion for dancing with everyone around her. Once she got cancer, she started Dancers With Cancer, aimed at "healing through dance therapy." She went into hospitals and taught sick children how to dance. By sharing her love and huge heart with others in need, her compassion helped her fight for a long time.
There was no question in my mind that my bat mitzvah project would be about and for Elizabeth Walsh. I knew that she had started something amazing, and the best way I could honor her was to continue it. Her legacy will never die this way. I thought about how I wanted to raise money in positive ways. First, I recorded the song "The Prayer" and put it up on iTunes. I think of Elizabeth whenever I sing these words: "I pray you'll be our eyes/and watch us where we go/and help us to be wise/in times when we don't know..." I held bake sales at my school and in my neighborhood, and my friends all generously pitched in. Then I organized a Soul Cycle ride where we all felt Elizabeth's warrior determination as we biked. Over the past year, I've raised $5,200 for Dancers With Cancer. I know Elizabeth would be proud, and I can still see her smile and hear her laughter.
To donate to Elizabeth's charity, go to http://www.dancerswithcancer.org.