Swim with Mike is pleased and proud to recognize Vandy and Betty Van Wagener as the Claire Snow Volunteers of the Year. Parents of Swim with Mike Alumni Scholarship Recipient David Van Wagener, they have been involved with Swim with Mike since they first learned of the program soon after David’s accident. Betty serves on the Swim with Mike Board of Directors and both have served as mentors to numerous scholarship recipients and applicants. Vandy and Betty have three children, Brian, David, and Laura. Brian and his wife Ha Na are parents to the first Van Wagener grandchild, 2 month old Oliver.
David was injured skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado in December 2002, the day after he returned home from his first semester at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. Soon after, Joe and Cathy (Abdun-Nur) Durrett contacted the family and urged David to apply for a scholarship from Swim with Mike. Vandy had worked with both Joe and Cathy at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati and they knew the entire Abdun-Nur clan well. Joe said, “I know you have a lot of other things on your mind, but you have no idea how expensive a spinal cord injury is, and Swim with Mike can help with college costs.” Joe was right. David’s C4/5 diagnosis led to many unforeseen expenses such as caregivers and a lot of specialized equipment and vehicles.
David applied for the scholarship, was awarded and returned to school at Bucknell in the fall of 2003. He was one of the first non-USC scholarship recipients and was so grateful for the support and encouragement that came from his new affiliation with the Swim with Mike family.
David continued with his studies in Chemical Engineering at Bucknell and was able to graduate with honors with his class in 2006. He decided to pursue a graduate degree and attended the University of Texas, Austin, where he graduated with a PhD in Chemical Engineering in August, 2011. David accepted a job offer from Phillips 66 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma starting in September, 2011, where he works in the area of carbon capture and sustainability.
Vandy went out to Swim with Mike at USC while David was still in rehab to check out what the organization was all about. He was very impressed and right then, the family set a goal of giving back what David would receive in both financial and other support. They started out with solicited donations from friends and family, who have been exceedingly generous! Each year has been more successful than the last. For instance, during the last three years, their neighbors turned their Super Bowl party into a fundraiser for David’d Spinal Cord Fund.
This past year, $40,000 was raised at the Super Bowl party. Half of the amount raised, David donates to Swim with Mike, and the other half goes towards spinal cord research. The Van Wageners feel blessed to have so many generous friends who have seen how Swim with Mike has supported David and are happy to continue to donate so that others can benefit from being a Swim with Mike scholarship recipient. The Van Wageners have long since surpassed their original goal and plan to keep contributing for years to come.
Although neither Vandy, Betty, nor any of their three children attended USC, the university holds a special place in their hearts and they feel lucky to be able to support such an amazing organization like Swim with Mike. Betty has loved being on the Board of Directors for the past few years and getting to know the scholarship recipients in a much more meaningful way. She has served as a mentor to numerous applicants and scholarship recipients and as a resource for parents and other family members struggling with the challenges of moving on after a tragic, life-changing accident.
Swim with Mike is lucky to have so many amazing donors, sponsors, volunteers, fundraisers, and other supports that allow the organization to support its mission. For our 34th Anniversary, we recognize Vandy and Betty Van Wagener as the Claire Snow Award winners as they represent the spirit of volunteerism that has allowed Swim with Mike to support 141 scholarship recipients. And we know that they will serve as examples to those that carry the organization on in the future so that we can carry on into perpetuity. Congratulations Vandy and Betty! Claire would be proud.