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 256 Swim With Mike scholarship recipients and their many meaningful accomplishments.
If you are interested in organizing a Swim with Mike event, fundraising or have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.