Swim with Mike, an annual swim-a-thon that raises money for the USC Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund, celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend.
Swim with Mike originally started as a way to raise funds to create scholarships for individuals who had suffered serious accidents or illnesses and wanted to attend USC. Since 1999, however, Swim with Mike has significantly expanded nationally, now granting scholarships to students around the country.
Initially titled Swim for Mike, Swim with Mike was established as a one-time event by teammates and friends for Mike Nyeholt, a three-time All-American swimmer paralyzed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident in 1981.
The first event was held on March 7, 1981, and volunteers aimed to purchase a specially equipped van for the superstar athlete.
To everyone’s surprise, the event raised $58,000, far exceeding the amount needed for the van. The excess money was used to create the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund at USC, the first of its kind in the nation.
Nyeholt was so overwhelmed with support that he promised to swim the next year to raise more money for future athletes. He kept his promise, swimming the following year and changing the program’s name.
Nyeholt now co-chairs the committee that coordinates the annual event, which has raised $9.6 million in the last 29 years.
“While the event was initiated first only to help Mike, the goal is to now help others live by Mike’s example and prove that anyone can work with physical disabilities,” said Ron Orr, director of Swim with Mike.
The Swim with Mike event includes food, celebrities, raffle prizes, massage centers, kid’s corners, barbeques, silent auctions, Olympics participants and more.
Those who aren’t adept swimmers but want to be involved can become a corporate partner, advertise in the program, donate an item to the swimmer participant goody bags or give an item to the silent auction.
“We are USC’s largest philanthropy; we’ve been around for 30 years and are a huge community in that we have the marching band, the football team and the song girls involved,” said Scott Orr, graduate student at USC and co-chair of the student staff for Swim with Mike.
The Swim with Mike program is truly a “smaller family within the Trojan Family,” said Alison Adams, an undergraduate student at USC and co-chair of the student staff for Swim with Mike. Swim with Mike “is definitely something you’re part of for life,” she added.
Each scholarship recipient brings in another network of people that wants to get involved and make a difference. Swim with Mike is a way to “do action and create a ripple effect,” Ron Orr said.
Swim with Mike started at USC and according to Ron Orr will always be an integral part of the USC community. He said he hopes to “leave an endowment and legacy behind to help other athletes who fall victim to tragedy for many years to come.”