April 20, 2011
BERKELEY - The "Swim With Mike" swim-a-thon fundraiser, which has raised nearly $11 million over the last 31 years and benefitted 101 Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship recipients, will make its debut at Cal on Saturday, April 23, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
The fund originated in 1981 at the University of Southern California in support of former USC swimmer Mike Nyeholt. It is the only one of its kind allowing students who have overcome life-challenging accidents or illnesses to pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees at several universities - including USC, Cal and a host of others.
To date, Swim With Mike has awarded $10,600,000 in scholarship money to 101 total student-athletes through its Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship. In 2010-11, Swim With Mike has awarded $770,000 collectively to 45 disabled athletes. Paving the way for physically challenged athletes to overcome their disability and return to school, the scholarship will provide tuition and financial assistance toward housing and books at USC and 41 other universities.
Of this year's 45 disabled athletes, a total of 11 are enrolled at USC and 34 attend universities spanning the nation. In order to qualify for a Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship, applicants must have suffered an illness or injury that resulted in a physical disability that substantially limits major life activity; have participated in organized high school or college athletics prior to the illness or injury; meet admissions requirements of the selected university, and maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average while enrolled.
More information is available at http://swimwithmike.org/events/swim-with-mike-cal.
Of the soon to be Pac -12 Conference schools, nine institutions have been home to one or more Swim With Mike Scholarship Recipients.
Former Cal men's water polo player Mike Sample has since been an important part in organizing and starting the event at the Spieker Aquatics Complex on Cal's campus. A Golden Bear from 2005-2009, Sample was a two-time national champion (2006 and 2007) and a co-captain of the 2009 squad. He joined the Swim with Mike - Cal effort after his recent graduation.
"I am inspired by people like Mike Nyeholt and [Cal scholarship recipient] Austin Whitney to help the Swim with Mike organization grow and continue to make a difference in the lives of disabled athletes around the country," Sample said. "It's been an honor to help bring Swim With Mike to UC Berkeley, and I look forward to the event continuing for years to come."
Members of Cal's four aquatics teams - the NCAA champion men's and women's swimming and diving squads as well as the nationally contending men's and women's water polo teams - will participate in some fashion Saturday - swimming, working or taking part in a few fun activities in the pool.
Volunteers make up the scholarship fund's staff, which garners financial support from corporate and private donations as well as the Swim With Mike swim-a-thons. Swim With Mike began as a fundraiser - "Swim FOR Mike" - to purchase a specially equipped van for three-time All-American USC swimmer and past NCAA Inspiration Award winner Mike Nyeholt, who became paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 1981. At Nyeholt's suggestion, the excess monies raised that year were used to aid other athletes overcome paralyzing or physically disabling injuries or illnesses, and assist them in returning to school. With the help of Nyeholt's teammate and now USC Associate Athletic Director Ron Orr, "Swim WITH Mike" was born the following year when Nyeholt returned to swim laps. Last year, 500 participants swam laps and helped raise $1,003,330.
Celebrating Swim With Mike's 10th year of offering scholarships to disabled athletes attending schools other than USC, today 41 different universities have had Swim With Mike Foundation Scholarship recipients attend the university of their choosing. Eleven new universities will be represented this year. Expanding from USC, sister-events have occurred at the University of Connecticut, the University of Hawaii and Stanford.
This year two UC schools - Cal and UC San Diego - proudly join these institutions in celebrating the foundation while raising funds for next year's new scholars with their own first annual swim events. Cal's will be held at the Spieker Aquatics Complex pool on April 23 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The event is a collaboration by the Cal Athletic Department, Bear Student-Athletic Advisory Council (BEAR SAAC) and Swim With Mike Foundation, with Whitney and Sample handling much of the planning. Through the generosity of Tod Spieker, a former All-American swimmer from UCLA, each dollar raised at the Swim With Mike - Cal will be matched. It is planned to be a fun day in the pool featuring relay races involving some of Cal's top athletes as well as members of the Greek, Cooperative and Engineering communities.
Whitney, Cal's recipient, was a varsity lacrosse and football player from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., who graduated from high school in 2007. Austin's life changed forever on July 21, 2007, when he was involved in a major auto accident that severed his spinal cord and paralyzed him from the waist down, one month before he was planning to enter the University of Michigan. Austin found the inner strength and power of attitude to not let the accident stop either his athletic drive or academic potential. Today you may find him playing wheelchair basketball, handcycling, scuba diving or sky diving, and he is graduating next month with a double major in political science and history and a 3.7 GPA. He works in Cal's Mechanical Engineering Department on medical exoskeletons that restore walking ability to those with paralysis, and also has spoken to 40,000 high school students in three states in the last three years.
"My life and successes outside the classroom have been solely dependent on the generosity of the Swim With Mike Foundation," Whitney reflected. "It is because of the scholarship they have awarded me that I am able to truly follow my passions and apply myself 100 percent to any task in front of me. Had it not been for Swim With Mike, my life would have been consumed trying simply to pay for college, and I would have been completely unable to do any of the life-defining activities I find myself lucky enough to be a part of.
"Words cannot possibly express the amount of gratitude and appreciation I have for Swim With Mike's investment in me, and their central role in helping me achieve my educational goals. Since my car accident three and a half years ago, there has been no more helpful institution or group than this foundation to rebuilding my life. Their generosity has inspired me to want to spend the rest of my life trying to give back in the same fashion that they so selflessly gave to me. Swim With Mike has provided me the tools to change the world, and I intend to use these skills to help others in my lifetime. This foundation is truly inspirational and essential to building a new generation of disabled leaders."
Nyeholt said, "To not be able to play the sport you love can be devastating, but my friend, Ron Orr, started Swim With Mike to prove that there is a support system to moving on, especially when it comes to education. I've had the pleasure of watching our recipients overcome their tragedies, both physically and mentally. We have an impressive recipient and alumni list, and multiple athletes who have participated in the Paralympics, triathlons and Iron Man."
Orr added, "Nearly all of our recipients played one or more sports before their accident. Now, we are seeing more of them doing competitive sports after their accident, often at an elite level. We have a recipient who gold medaled at the Paralympics and another who set an American record. Those two are just a few examples. It has been gratifying that the funds are allowing us to do just what the mission of the Physically Challenged Athletes Fund is, and that is to help athletes overcome their tragedies. It's our goal to continue growing for another 30-plus years and to have more `Swim With Mike' events at other universities."
For more information or to contribute, please visit http://swimwithmike.org/events/swim-with-mike-cal/.
Other Swim With Mike events in 2011 include: