Jack Jablonski rolled up to his usual spot in front of the microphone on a recent Wednesday evening and waited for his cue: “It is Hockey Night Minnesota with Jack Jablonski on Sports Radio 105 The Ticket,” the announcer’s voice boomed, launching the weekly drive-time show.
Jablonski had never envisioned sitting inside a radio studio, broadcasting his hockey knowledge over airwaves instead of showing his prowess on the ice. He’d always felt a little uneasy speaking in public. But after a paralyzing accident in the rink 2 ½ years ago, Jablonski, now 18, has pushed himself to do a lot of things he’d never imagined.
Natalie Buchoz is a junior at USC and current SWM recipient. She transferred to USC as a sophomore from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA. She grew up in Huntington Beach, and attended Edison High School. At Edison, she played volleyball, softball, swimming, and soccer. She is studying public relations with a minor in sports media. Recently, Swim with Mike (“SWM”) sat down with her to talk about her SWM experience thus far.
What is your favorite thing about USC?
My favorite thing about USC would have to be the Annenberg T.V. station. I really enjoy working there and as part of my work, am able to cover a variety of sports. In thefall, I did Water Polo, Volleyball, and a little of Men’s Basketball. Right now, I’m covering Men’s Baseball.
Who is your favorite person in SWM? & Why?
Don Winston! Don is an exceptional person who is not only an extremely hard worker, but also a loving father, an exceptional mentor, and an amazing human being. He’s not only gone through a lot in his lifetime, but also experienced a lot through his son, and former SWM recipient, Jim Winston. He’s a great person and I love being around him!
What did receiving a SWM scholarship mean to you?
To put it into words would be nearly impossible. Receiving a scholarship from SWM meant for me that SWM was going to help me on the road to independence. A lot of people take the word independence for granted. Due to my accident forcing me to be dependent on other people, I have truly come to relish the word and its true meaning. A lot of people think that independence just means growing up. I know it to mean something entirely different. SWM allowed me to get back out there and put me into situations that I didn’t think I was going to be able to do again. It gave me the financial and mental support I needed to get back to who I was prior to my accident. SWM is really a life-changing organization.
How did SWM’s support help you and your family specifically?
Before I started SWM, I was doing therapy five days a week in Carlsbad, CA at a facility that wasn’t covered by insurance. Due to this, we were forced to pay for it out-of-pocket. This made things difficult and forced us to fundraisers every year to try and offset the cost. At this time, we hadn’t even started to think about the possibility of me attending college. By me receiving a SWM scholarship, I was able to focus on and attend school without the worry of how we were going to pay for it. The injury that I received is very expense and a constant, ongoing process that at first it seemed like I would never be able to get away from. However, with SWM’s help, I’ve been able to attend school with that wight lifted off of my chest. I feel like this is the biggest contribution that SWM has made to me, personally, so far is the fact that I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do next and how I am going to afford it.
You were quite the athlete in high school, are you still as active?
I exercise now almost as much as I did prior to my accident. I got to the gym four times a week and really enjoy swimming so I do a lot of it. I do a lot of kayaking and just started stand-up paddle boarding also.
Why should someone donate to SWM?
First off, I would like to thank all of the current donors for showing their support and believing in an organization so much that they are willing to donate to it. Your donations affect people’s lives and helps them get back to the person they were prior to their injury. I wouldn’t be at USC today pursuing a degree and living on my own if it weren’t for your support. Furthermore, if you haven’t donated to SWM before or are thinking about increasing your support, please remember how catastrophic these situations are and how with SWM’s help, they’re able to change these people’s lives and get them to reach their full potential by offering them a scholarship. SWM does what every other charity does…and then takes it to the next level!
On March 7th, Grit Cycle in Costa Mesa donated a “ride” in honor of Swim with Mike and Natalie Buchoz. Fifty cyclists participated and Natalie had the opportunity to share Swim with Mike’s mission statement and how Swim with Mike has changed her life. Thank you to Grit Cycle, Marisa Wayne, and the Buchoz family for organizing the “ride.”
“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.”