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.”
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.
by Andres Anton-Diaz
Through many years of maintaining a strong relationship with Swim With Mike by sponsoring a lane and procuring auction items, Yvonne Bogdanovich already had a strong bond with our organization’s mission. Yvonne has been a strong and loyal supporter of many great causes at USC for over thirty years, and when an opportunity arose in 2013 to make an even greater impact, Swim With Mike naturally came to mind.
“Even though I never had the opportunity to meet a Swim With Mike recipient in person, I had connected with all of them at a distance through the newsletters and through Ron.”
Yvonne understood that Swim With Mike, while already counting on a strong foundation of unconditional support from donors large and small every year, had a smaller long-term structure to rely on. Swim With Mike’s endowment (our organization’s investment account) has been growing steadily over the past few years, allowing us the opportunity to save for the future, while only spending the interest we receive from every year. Following the lead of Karen Larson (Executive Director position endowment), Will and Linda Gassett (operating endowment), the Mayer-Leahy family (endowed scholarship), and Jennifer Walsh (endowed scholarship), she understood that what we needed the most was to guarantee another one of our scholarships in perpetuity. Her generous gift of $250,000 will go far in ensuring that our family will continue to support physically challenged athletes for generations to come.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to sit next to and interact with Nick Ekbatani at a recent function. He was an incredible reminder of why the work of Swim With Mike is so important, and how all of our donations are truly changing lives every single day.”
Our team will continue to work hard in identifying families across the country who wish to support us in continuing to strengthen our financial future. One of the things that make endowments, annuities, and deferred tax plans so great is the security they provide for our mission in perpetuity. As Swim With Mike co-founders noted:
“Our endowment guarantees that Swim With Mike will live on long after we are gone.” – Ron Orr
“ This generous gift will ensure that Swim With Mike will always be able to help someone to jumpstart their life, through education, after sufferring a life altering accident or illness.” – Mike Nyeholt
Thank you Yvonne for your generous support. Our current and future recipients could not have done it without you.
By Len Vraniak (From Boeing News Site)
Matt Oka has faced a number of challenges since breaking his neck in a surfing accident about six years ago, but joining Boeing’s Business Skills Rotation Program and becoming part of the Space and Intelligence Systems Finance team wasn’t one of them.
“From day one,” said Oka, who uses a wheelchair, “the company really stepped up. One of the first things they did was figure out how I would be able to use a computer. I showed the ergonomics people who came to my office how I had used my computer during college, and they worked with the Moonshine Shop to develop an adjustable keyboard for me.” (The Moonshine Shop gets its name from the Prohibition era in U.S. history, when individuals used whatever they could find to quickly and cheaply make their own liquor by moonlight or otherwise out of sight. Boing adopted the term to refer to inventive problem-solving performed away from the production lines to avoid disrupting operations.)
Boeing also helped Oka get a desk that he can move up or down by pushing a button, which, he noted, “helps me to be as productive as I can be every day.”
One of the bigger complications was that Oka initially had to work in a different building than the rest of his team, because to get to them, he had to go through a secure door that he could not physically operate and that could not accommodate his wheelchair. The executive sponsor of his rotational program, Sandy Feldbusch, coordinated the installation of a new door that opens automatically when he swipes his badge.
The thing that impressed him the most, Oka said, was that “they came to me with solutions. I never had to ask. Everyone has been really good about seeing what I need to be comfortable and more productive.” He also encourages others with medical conditions, even if it’s not a visible impairment like his, to “speak up and ask your managers for support, because Boeing has resources to help all sorts of people who need assistance to improve their work spaces.”
Beyond the support he has received, Oka was drawn to Boeing for a couple of other reasons. First, like many Boeing employees, Oka has “always had an interest in space and technology.” But the Finance organization’s Business Skills Rotation Program also attracted Oka’s attention because it would enable him to get a taste of several different areas of the Finance function.
This rotation program is for college new hires, who spend a year in each of three different assignments. Based on their career interests and the needs of the company, the employee generally will be assigned a final placement in one of those areas.
Oka’s first job at Boeing was as a contracts administrator. Then he moved to financial planning, and now he is an integrated scheduler on the new business scheduling team within the commercial satellites part of S&IS. In that role, he helps to ensure that every commercial proposal his division sends out sets achievable schedule expectations for the customer.
The most interesting part of the rotation program, according to Oka, is that it challenges participants to continue learning new things. “Just when you think you know how things work,” he said, “the new assignments make you realize there is a bigger picture that your work fits into.”
Seeing the bigger picture has inspired Oka to expand his skills using Boeing’s Learning Together Program. He is about halfway through the coursework necessary to earn a certificate in Astronautical Engineering from UCLA. While he does not intend to become an engineer, Oka believes that “increasing my technical knowledge will help me be a better finance partner to the businesses I work in during my career at Boeing.”
Oka credited his first managers, who have become mentors as well, with inspiring him to grow within the company. He also credits them with creating an environment where, as Oka puts it, “I have never felt excluded at Boeing, just because I’m in a wheelchair.”
“I don’t necessarily think about that as diversity,” he continues, “because it just feels like the way things are done
He also advises everyone to get involved, either in external organizations, company-sponsored affinity groups or events, and professional societies related to one’s areas of interest. “I offer that same advice to everyone,” he says, “whether they’re in a chair like me or not, because learning new things and meeting new people is how we break down barriers.”
Another way Oka helps break down barriers is through his charitable activities. He participates in a swimming fundraiser called Swim with Mike, which benefits the University of Southern California’s Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. Participants raise money for each lap they swim. Oka also loves to travel, watch college football and hang out with his friends— including a number of his peers in the Business Skills Rotation Program. He has traveled to 25 countries, with St. Tropez, France, being his favorite
As Matt Oka continues his career at Boeing, colleagues said, his response to the challenges in his life can be a
source of inspiration to everyone.
By Bill Plaschke (From Los Angeles Times)
The former UCLA football player glistened with tough, his blade prosthetic a shiny blur as he sprinted into the Rose Bowl.
This popular offensive lineman who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident 16 months ago brought the blue-clad crowd to its feet Saturday night as he led UCLA out of the locker room for the second half against Arizona State, thousands cheering the epitome of a gutty little Bruin.
If only they had seen what happened next. If only they had seen their powerful Bruins symbol jog off into the deep embrace of the popular volleyball player who has been quietly carrying him through this nightmare.
If only they had seen she was a Trojan.
His name is Nick Ekbatani, and he is all UCLA.
“UCLA has a certain grit, a certain underdog feel, and that is how I resonate,” he said.
Her name is Kelli Tennant, and she is all USC.
“We’re strong, we’re traditional, I’m a Trojan through and through,” she said.
They couldn’t be more different. They couldn’t be more connected.
They began dating in the summer of 2012, a couple of years after each had graduated. Their courtship had consisted of only a handful of dates before Ekbatani’s motorcycle was broadsided by a taxi that crushed his left leg and led to amputation below the knee.
Tennant could have run from him. Instead, she ran to him, beginning an extraordinary journey during which they have used their disparate experiences to help each other grow.
“She is the epitome of a Trojan, and I am the epitome of a Bruin, but we have come together on this great adventure,” said Ekbatani.
This Thanksgiving week is perhaps a good time to celebrate this adventure, a tale that exposes a neat little secret about this country’s unique college sports rivalry.
For all its vitriol, Saturday’s 83rd renewal of the USC-UCLA football game at the Coliseum is about two schools but one community, two visions but one destination, two heartbeats but one city’s soul.
“I think we’re just another example of how, at the end of the day, USC and UCLA is really all one big supportive neighborhood,” Ekbatani said.
They were once highly regarded varsity athletes who couldn’t wait to beat those kids down the street. Tennant, who was honored on the 2005 Pac-10 all-freshman team, remembers emotional volleyball matches. Ekbatani, who started all 12 games in 2008, was in uniform for the infamous 13-9 UCLA victory in 2006.
They constantly refer to their schools as their families. Yet they form a new crosstown kind of family. They have dated mostly nonstop since the accident, using the lessons from their alma mater not to tear each other down, but to hold each other together.
Tennant, 25, has used her Trojans-inspired resilience to help care for Ekbatani through his 11 surgeries and countless setbacks as he learned to walk again.
Ekbatani, 26, has used his Bruins-fed optimism to help inspire Tennant as she has advanced in her career as a local television sports broadcaster.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times
by Susan Shimotsu (from USC School of Social Work News Site)
Edgar Rico was 24 when his life changed forever.
It wasn’t graduating from college or starting a new career, but it was a car accident that broke his neck and left him paralyzed from the neck down. An avid athlete who played baseball and soccer, Rico was told by doctors that not only would he never again be able to play the sports he loved, but that he would never be able to do anything else but lie in a bed. Unwilling to accept this prognosis, Rico refused to feel sorry for himself and instead fought to give himself opportunities to live a normal life.
“I had to find ways how to live my new life,” said Rico, a Master of Social Work student at the USC School of Social Work. “Getting around and doing basic things that seem easy was a challenge. But I managed to find ways to deal with my disability. I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me what I could or couldn’t do.”
Rico’s first order of business was to regain feeling and movement where his doctors had told him he couldn’t. After intense physical therapy, Rico was able to regain partial movement in his arms one year after his accident.
About six months later, Rico, who had previously worked as a mechanic before his injury, enrolled in junior college to embark on his path to the USC School of Social Work.
Going back to school posed logistical challenges, but Rico was determined to get through them. During his first semester of junior college, his mother pushed him to class in a manual wheelchair and assisted him with his class work. It only took him one semester to adjust, as he was able to navigate himself and handle his own coursework the very next term.
“That’s when I started to see hope in life again,” said Rico, who is still unable to move his fingers. “Going back to school, I was focused and never gave up. So no matter what challenges are put before you, face them and try, because if you try everything is possible.”
Although he had not attended college before his injury, Rico saw purpose in what he was learning and later became inspired by sociology courses while studying at California State University, Los Angeles. Rico then decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work to help others unable to help themselves. Just as he was able to overcome his obstacles, he wants to bring about change and social justice by improving the quality of life and well-being of his clients.
“While at CSULA, I learned about the many experiences an individual faces when they are left with minimal or no resources to get ahead in life,” said Rico. “This gave me an understanding on why and how people are being oppressed, making me want to seek a career in social work to bring about change and help people.”
As a former athlete, Rico was selected to receive a Swim With Mike scholarship, awarded to physically challenged athletes, to attend the USC School of Social Work.
“I wanted to attend the USC School of Social Work because it is ranked one of the top schools for social work,” he said. “I know by attending USC, I will be equipped with the knowledge and experience to enhance the lives of individuals from many walks of life.”
Today, Rico says he can use his arms fairly well and is able to take notes with a special writing device. Despite still not being able to use his fingers, he has no trouble using a computer for his coursework and is able to get to school using Access Paratransit, a special shared-ride service for people with disabilities in Los Angeles County.
Adjunct Lecturer Evangelina Reina met Rico during the School of Social Work’s Community Immersion program in 2012 and immediately saw his commitment to learning and helping his peers.
“I admire his ability to see the positive in himself,” she said. “Edgar has not allowed his circumstances to stop him from reaching his goals despite the barriers he faces. He shares his story to teach others, not to evoke sympathy.”
School of Social Work Student Organization Board president Hector Cendejas said that Rico is a positive role model and invited him to be one of the main speakers at a USC community event for at-risk youth to share his story about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to attend college.
“There are many qualities that I admire about Edgar: He’s courageous, resilient, bold, optimistic, good-spirited, caring, kind, strong and humble,” said Cendejas. “He will be an amazing social worker – someone who will empower and inspire others to follow their dreams and not let anyone bring them down. For me, Edgar is my hero, my role model.”
Despite spending more than a decade in a wheelchair, Rico is still physically active. Unwavering in his hopes to one day walk again, he works out three times a week to keep his body healthy. Along with Robert Scott, another disabled student at USC, Rico is currently working to get the first officially recognized adaptive recreational club on campus for students who are physically challenged.
“One of the biggest obstacles I’ve had was accepting the fact that my life would be different,” he said. “It took years to gain that confidence that life could continue despite my disability. Yet, I was determined to get my life back no matter what obstacles or challenges were put against me.”