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History

Swim With Mike – Helping physically challenged athletes find a new purpose in life through academic scholarships

Swim FOR Mike was held in 1981 as a swim-a-thon fundraiser on behalf of Mike Nyeholt, a three-time All American USC swimmer who was paralyzed following a motorcycle accident. The event was conceived and spearheaded by Mike’s lifelong friend and swim teammate, Ron Orr, who, along with friends, teammates, and family, organized the event. The intent was to raise funds to purchase an appropriately equipped van for Mike so that he could continue his professional career and adapt to his new life.

The event was extremely successful and raised more funds than needed for Mike’s van. Mike made a visionary decision to establish Swim WITH Mike, the USC Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund, whose mission is: to provide financial resources for advanced education that pave the way for physically challenged athletes to help overcome their tragedies and realize their full potential.

Initially, the scholarships were awarded to USC students. But, as the program gained national recognition, we began receiving many applications from nationally outstanding, deserving, qualified students wanting to begin – or continue – their advanced education to pursue their lifelong dreams of educational, professional, and personal success.

It just made sense to expand our Swim With Mike horizons and welcome scholarship recipients from universities across the nation to further our stated mission by increasing access for individual growth. In 2000 we proudly accepted our first recipients representing this new category – Sam Paneno, UC Davis Law School, and David Van Wagener, University of Texas Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering.

Over the years, we continued to receive larger and larger numbers of applications from worthy, highly qualified aspiring scholarship recipients. The national expansion has proven to be a mutually rewarding experience as we support these extraordinary individuals who show incredible promise and success.

As elite athletes, Mike and Ron understood there is a special bond with all athletes, and what they all have in common is a need to achieve success. This is extremely well stated by another former elite USC swimmer, Dillion Connolly. Dillon had an accident in 2015 and is now a quadriplegic on a SWM scholarship pursuing an MBA at USC Marshall School of Business:

“I think something that all athletes have in common is that we are endorphin junkies and crave physical activity. Athletes rely on able bodies’ activities for happiness and personal accomplishment. When that is taken away, saying it’s “an adjustment” is a bold understatement. The injury takes away the ex-athlete’s independence, their pride, their confidence, their physique, their dignity, their manual skills, and most everything they were ever good at. And, in many cases, the athlete will lose many friends, or their boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. I think it’s amazing that Swim With Mike is around to give us something back, and I wish everybody knew how important an opportunity this is for the physically challenged recipients.”

So, on the occasion of our 40th Anniversary, let’s all rejoice with pride on the success of our 253 Swim With Mike scholarship recipients and their many meaningful accomplishments.

Swim On!

If you are interested in organizing a Swim with Mike event, fundraising or have any questions, please contact us at swimwithmike@gmail.com.

1981

The Swim For Mike event raised $58,000 and Mike surprised all the supporters with his first visit out of the hospital.

1982

Mike swims at Swim With Mike and we awarded our first physically challenged athletes scholarships to Becki McCafferty and Kevin Lewis.

1983

Swim With Mike was first function at new McDonald’s 1984 Olympic pool on USC campus. McDonald’s presented a sponsorship donation in support of the physically challenged athletes scholarship fund.

1985

Amputee Jeff Keith ran 8 months, 16 miles a day from Boston to Marina del Rey, was first amputee to run across America. When he finished, Mike greeted him with a SWM scholarship for graduate school.

1988

Established “Gerald and Betty Ford People Helping People Award” recognizing philanthropic individuals. President Ford was key part of SWM’s history as Mike gave him swim lessons at Ford’s desert home.

1990

Mike visits President Reagan at president’s Century City office thanking him for his personal check on occasion of 10 years after President Reagan had sent letter to Mike while in hospital in 1981.

1991

10 year anniversary and we raised $700,000 since 1981 and provided 20 scholarships. Mike presents the 1991 People Helping People Award to Betty White in recognition of her philanthropic activities.

1996

$1.3 million total raised! 28 total recipients! Mike receives the California Governor’s Award from Pete Wilson.

1999

USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann presented People Helping People Award by 1998 awardee Wallis Annenberg, along with SWM scholarship recipient Rob Mucho (USC Marketing ‘86, MBA Marketing CSULB ‘93)

2001

20 years of Swim With Mike and 38 scholarships provided, nearly $3 million raised.

2005

Swim With Mike’s first satellite fundraising event is at University of Hawai’i, where our physically challenged athletes scholarship recipient, Keith Kitamura was earning Masters Degree in Teaching.

2007

Established “Claire Snow Volunteer of the Year Award” in honor of longtime volunteer who lost her battle with cancer. Inaugural honoree Oscar Mendoza, presented by Claire’s daughters Becky and Liz.

2008

Swim With Mike satellite fundraising event at University of Connecticut is initiated by recipient Joe Zinski. The Mayr Foundation gives the largest gift we have ever received!

2010

30 year anniversary and SWM is still going strong with total of 92 scholarships and over $10 million raised! What a reason to celebrate, so we did!

2010

Future SWM scholarship recipient and #61 Jake Olson wins 30th Anniversary at the Annenberg Community Beach House First Lap as he swam against USC Quarterback Matt Barkley and Center Kris O’Dowd.

2015

35th Annual Swim With Mike was first event held at the new USC Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Shown here is Mike with Fred Uytengsu, the 1983 Swim Team Captain and for whom the aquatics center is named.

2016

Over 35 years of Swim with Mike and we’re stronger than ever.

2018

38th Annual Swim With Mike and nearly $22 million total raised, 232 total scholarships provided at 123 universities nationwide.

2018

Swim With Mike satellite events now being held at Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, Danville and in conjunction with Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

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