LOS ANGELES, California. April 17. LAST weekend, on April 8th, The University of Southern California hosted the 26th annual Swim with Mike swim-a-thon fundraiser. This swim-a-thon raises money for athletes who have been disabled to go to college and get their degrees. It originally started as Swim for Mike in 1980 when USC Swimmer, Mike Nyeholt, was paralyzed and needed a van to get around. The swimmers had a swim-a-thon fundraiser and raised enough money for a van plus plenty more. Mike decided to put that money into a scholarship fund for disabled athletes and 26 years later the annual event raises over $700,000 a year to help those athletes further their education.
I was asked to attend this year's Swim with Mike and I graciously accepted. I had been to the McDonald's Swim Stadium at USC several times before, but on this day it was completely different. There were booths lining the edges of the pool. Balloons were everywhere. Mickey and Minnie mouse were in attendance. Music was being sung live and swimmers packed all of the lanes. Some of the swimmers were very fast. Some of the swimmers probably weren't swimmers at all, but they were trying.
A certain swimmer caught my eye as I rolled in. He had paddles on and a thin life vest. He wasn't moving very fast, but he was methodical and consistent. His sister was swimming behind him in a spotting position counting his laps. At the end of his lane was a bright orange wheelchair.
I recognized a few of the people behind his lane and went over and talked to them. It turns out this young swimmer's name was Joey Pulford. A former competitive swimmer and water polo player, Joey crushed his C5 vertebrae during junior lifeguard training in 2000. He is a recipient of one of the Swim with Mike scholarships. At this point in the day he was on his eighth lap and by the looks of things I was pretty sure he was good for about two more. Ten laps of swimming for someone who can barely lift their arms above their head was an inspirational feat in my book.
I rolled around the deck a few more times and had the honor of meeting several people: Mike Nyeholt himself, Pete Carroll, Mickey and Minnie, USC Cheerleaders, and some of the USC football players. Each conversation was substantial in length and uplifting in nature. This was quite an amazing event. Everybody was smiling and having a good time.
It was nearly an hour later when I rolled by the still empty bright orange chair. I looked in the water and there was Joey hanging on the wall. He had a smile on his face that looked like he was up to no good. His sister, who had been following him this entire time looked completely exhausted. The first thought that entered my mind was, "Wow he's been hanging there a long time." As it turned out he had JUST finished.
"How far did you go Joey?" I asked him.
"Thirty laps," he replied.