Inspiration is all around us. The inspiration to persevere, to overcome obstacles, to face adversity, to find the motivation to set goals and move forward in the face of the seemingly impossible. There are times such inspiration may feel hard to find, of course. Sometimes, you just need to know where to look.
On April 1, eyes were turned to the Swim with Mike Foundation annual event at the USC Uytengsu Aquatics Center, and that inspiration was all around. For the 42nd year, individuals and corporations, friends and complete strangers, longtime supporters and first timers alike came together in support of the nonprofit’s mission: “to change the lives of student-athletes who have experienced catastrophic injury or illness by providing scholarships, creating community and instilling hope and purpose.”
“Eclaro is proud to support the Swim with Mike Foundation, and to spread the word,” says Eclaro’s Tom Sheridan. “The power of coming together, of realizing what’s possible when we unite for common goals, is apparent in everything the foundation does, and Mike Nyeholt’s story is one that will continue to inspire long into the future.”
That story is one that took shape after onetime USC swimmer and three-time NCAA national champion Mike Nyeholt was paralyzed from the chest down in a 1981 dirt-biking accident. Doctors told him he would never walk again, and he told them they were wrong.
With friend Ron Orr, a USC All-American swimming teammate, getting behind an effort to raise money to help purchase a specially equipped van for Mike to be able to continue his studies at USC, the first Swim with Mike event was launched that same year. Proving the “stronger together” adage, an outpouring of support from the USC family and fellow swimmers in this swim-a-thon raised $58,000, and inspired Mike to not only show up at the event via ambulance to thank everyone but to promise that he would swim in the event the next year to help others.
And swim he did, with the mission to raise scholarship money for other physically challenged athletes to be able to study at USC. Over the years, Swim with Mike has garnered support and participation from the likes of world-class athletes from Olympic swimmers to NFL legend Lynn Swann, celebrities such as Betty White and Will Ferrell, even former presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. The scholarship funds continue to rise, reaching $3 million by 2001, $10 million by 2010, and now more than $27 million, leading to 286 scholarships to students attending 146 colleges and universities. Volunteer numbers grow, advocate numbers grow, visibility grows, the impact grows.
They call this the Ripple Effect, the way in which the reach and impact and visibility and support and giving continue to grow and spread from that first seemingly small event. The effect is as powerful in real-world application as it is in the simple image a tiny drop in a pool sending out waves in all directions, endlessly.
Swim with Mike scholarships have helped people go on to become lawyers and teachers, doctors and engineers and more. Along with the money, the scholarships and the efforts to help raise the funds provide a message that resonates as deep as the dollars. “After tragedy,” the foundation states, “getting back to education is getting back to life—and independence.”
“From the moment we learned about Swim with Mike and the many ways the organization strives to touch the lives of people in need through education and athletic endeavor, we felt how important this organization is to so many,” adds Eclaro’s Paul Sheridan. “One person truly can make a difference, and that’s a lesson we can all apply to every aspect of our lives, professionally and personally, every day.”