Jennifer Walsh Endowment Reaches 20th Anniversary

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“I cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was to receive the Jennifer Walsh scholarship,” former Jennifer Walsh Scholarship recipient Mike Fritschner said. “It was such a blessing and an honor to simply know and connect with the Walsh family through Swim with Mike for my first three years at USC, but to receive the Walsh scholarship my senior year was more than I could have ever hoped for. Jennifer’s courage, perseverance, and refusal to stop striving for more perfectly embodies the qualities of the ideal Swim with Mike scholarship recipient. We should all attempt to be a little more like Jennifer and the rest of the Walsh family.”

But who was Jennifer Walsh? Jennifer was a high school athlete who played volleyball and softball. She captained her Chaminade High School’s softball team and was recognized as one of the team’s best hitters. Her former softball number has since been retired at Chaminade. She was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma cancer at the beginning of her junior year of high school. This led to three leg operations and being unable to continue playing softball. She attended USC as a freshman in the fall of 1994, where she lived in Webb Tower. She even traveled to Chicago for the USC-Notre Dame football game played in South Bend that year. Her father describes this as a high point of her time at USC and saying that, “she and her younger sister went all around the Notre Dame campus and saw all of the various important sites.”

After completing her first semester at USC in which she maintained a 3.19 GPA, she lost her two-year battle with the disease. In 1994, Swim with Mike paid tribute to her spirit and determination by establishing an endowed scholarship in her name. Furthermore, the 1994 swim was dedicated to Jennifer. Each year, contributors have the opportunity to donate to the Jennifer Walsh Swim endowment or the annual fund. This fund has continued to grow and has since provided a scholarship for Kristina Ripatti, Molly Higley, Mike Fritschner, and Natalie Buchoz. Many of Jennifer’s friends still contribute each year to her endowment fund. The endowment fund has been able to help many Swim with Mike scholars and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Jennifer and her family’s impact can still be felt to this day as Natalie Buchoz was named 2014 Jennifer Walsh Endowment Fund Recipient. Ntatlie said, “Due to this scholarship, I received the financial support to get through school, but also, the independence to be able to attend USC. If I hadn’t received this scholarship, I would not be able to be as independent as I am today. I was to personally thank the Walsh family from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity. I feel honored to have been able to receive this scholarship and will do my best to carry on Jennifer’s spirit in the future and make her proud. Fight On!”

Although the Walsh family first got involved with Swim with Mike in 1993, due to Jennifer being a recipient, they are still heavily involved with Swim with Mike to this day and can be seen at each Swim in the General Store assisting Liz Biggs. However, their efforts extend beyond just USC with them helping Swim with Mike reach almost 100% recognition throughout the former Pac-10 and helping to establish the vast number of satellite swims that Swim with Mike has today. Former recipient of the Jennifer Walsh Endowment Fund, Molly Higley commented on how this scholarship and the Walsh’s have helped her when she said, “I want to thank the Walsh family for creating this amazing scholarship to honor Jennifer because, it really allowed me to pursue a new dream post-injury of getting my master’s in social work. Without this scholarship, I don’t think this would have happened. Having the experience of going back to school after my injury helped me in moving forward mentally after my injury. I love Swim with Mike and the Walsh family, and truly am appreciative for what they’ve done.”

Jennifer’s Endowment Fund reaches its 20th anniversary this year and is very close to hitting the million-dollar mark. Jennifer’s father Patrick Walsh summed it up best when he said, “It’s very close to hitting the million-dollar mark. It would be wonderful as a remembrance to Jennifer to cross that threshold. I’m sure Jennifer would smile down from where she is. All of the donors are in our prayers. Let’s kick this over the threshold this year!” Finally, Patrick took a moment to reflect on how Swim with Mike has grown over the years to its current status of having sixty scholarship recipients at forty-nine schools when he said, “The fact that so many former and current recipients are doing such great things is really impressive. It’s amazing what some of these recipients have done with their lives. Although they have faced obstacles, they haven’t let it slow them down.”