Swim with Mike is more than a fundraiser

On Saturday, USC will host the annual Swim with Mike event at the McDonald’s Swim Stadium. Each year, the event is held to raise money for the school’s Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund.

The event started in 1981 and has been held for the past 32 years. Though many students and Trojan affiliates are familiar with the event, the vast majority of people don’t know why Swim with Mike exists or what it means to thousands of handicapped college students around the country.

Warrior · Though Mike Nyeholt was paralyzed in an accident in 1981, he decided to help those who were put in similar situations. - Photo courtesy of Sports Information

Swim with Mike is named after Mike Nyeholt, who graduated from USC in 1978. He was an All-American swimmer in his time on the swim and dive team, and was working as a business professional after his time at USC ended.

In 1981, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed for the rest of his life. It appeared that Nyeholt would never live normally again. The former All-American who helped USC win three national championships was, for all intents and purposes, dead in the water.

But Nyeholt was not so quick to give up. Ron Orr, one of Nyeholt’s friends, started a Swim-a-Thon event so that Nyeholt could pay his medical bills. At the time, the event was called Swim for Mike. In its first year, the event raised nearly $60,000.

[Correction: A previous version called the first year of the event Swim with Mike. The event was initially called Swim for Mike. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.]

Nyeholt did not need all of the money, so he created a fund for the extra money aptly called the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. The event was held the next year.

And the next.

And the next.

It was renamed Swim with Mike, as Nyeholt became a participant in the event, swimming with those that wished to raise money for the charity. The rest, as they say, is history.

Nyeholt’s foundation has raised $12.1 million since the first Swim for Mike event in the early 1980s. With that money, 116 scholarships have been awarded to students at USC and schools across the country that demanded life not come to a halt when they became paralyzed.

This year, the event is being held on the same day as the football team’s spring game. So, it would make sense that the hoopla would be at the Coliseum.

Not exactly.

The USC marching band will be at McDonald’s Swim Stadium, as will all the cheerleaders and several USC athletes. Swim and dive coach Dave Salo will be there, as will several USC gold medal-winning swimmers.

No, the point here is not to miss senior quarterback Matt Barkley throwing passes all over the field for a swim event.

Rather, the point is to realize how incredible Swim with Mike is and to recognize the amazing opportunities it has provided.

And beyond that, to recognize Nyeholt for the great things he has done.

Nyeholt and the entire project should serve as an inspiration. It would have been easy for Nyeholt to adjust his lifestyle and to cut swimming out of it.

But he refused. He wanted to swim and wanted people to know that just because certain parts of their bodies didn’t work, didn’t necessarily mean that they had to cut out large parts of their livelihood.

Nyeholt will likely be at the event Saturday, as will hundreds of participants who want to give hope to those who could easily have given up. But Nyeholt would never let that happen to people he sees in the same position as he was more than 30 years ago. It would not be right.

Swimming is not all he does, though. Nyeholt is now the senior vice president for sales and marketing for the Capital Group Companies. The fact that he is in a wheelchair does not mean that he pities himself. Instead, he went and lived his life on his own terms and made sure that thousands of people with paralysis across the country could follow suit and do the same.

In the same way that Nyeholt will be out in the sun Saturday morning, cheering people on to swim as far as they possibly can, Swim with Mike is there to cheer people on so they know that a paralyzing injury is not the end. In fact, for special individuals like Nyeholt, it sometimes marks the beginning of a greater journey.

And that journey is something that we, as Trojans, should all embrace and be incredibly proud of.


“Goal Line Stand” runs Thursdays. If you would like to comment on this story, email Michael at katzml@usc.edu or comment below.

1 reply
  1. SwM Swimmer
    SwM Swimmer says:

    I think it was at first called “Swim for Mike” then later renamed “Swim with Mike” when he joined in the event.

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