Nyeholt’s swim event benefits challenged athletes
All he did was break his neck.
In some ways, that was the easy part for Mike Nyeholt, a former All-America swimmer at the University of Southern California. A dirt-bike accident in 1981 left him paralyzed, not only physically from the neck down, but also mentally as he wondered how to go on with his life.
Former Trojan teammates, family and friends shared in his frustration and decided to do what Nyeholt -- at the time -- could not do: swim. When their inaugural fundraising swim-a-thon in 1981 raised $63,000, more than covering Nyeholt's medical expenses, the excess money made a turn on the pool wall, supporting the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship fund.
"Swim For Mike" became "Swim With Mike." In its 25 years, the event has raised $5.5 million and helped 55 athletes.
Two of the current 16 scholarship awardees are in Hawaii: Tusi Mailo, a former Kahuku High football player now attending Brigham Young-Hawaii and Keith Kitamura, a former Kapaa High multi-sport athlete who is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii.
The event has its second lap in Hawaii on April 22 at UH's Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Center. The goal this year is to raise $20,000 to support at least three scholarships for physically challenged athletes in Hawaii.
Nyeholt is in Hawaii this week to promote the event. Former UH assistant athletic director Kaia Hedlund, who was Nyeholt's swimming teammate at USC, is again helping to coordinate.
"The expansion to Hawaii makes sense," Hedlund said. "The simple fact is that there are a lot of physically challenged athletes in Hawaii, and Hawaii is considered to be the water sports capital of the world."
Nyeholt is scheduled to return to participate in the Hawaii swim, two weeks after the April 8 swim at USC.
Getting back in the pool has been something Nyeholt's been able to do since telling the supporters at the 1981 event: "My dad is swimming laps today. I'll be swimming next year."
"I know what these kids are dealing with," Nyeholt said yesterday. "They have to deal with going from being an athlete who can do anything physically to not being able to deal with going up curbs in a wheelchair. They don't want to go out or go on.
"It's a huge mental adjustment. All you want to do is work out and get to walk again. That's not always going to happen. Sometimes you get lucky and get a little (movement) back.
"I want these kids to know there is life after what happened. I tell them to get out, get an education and get on with your life."
Nyeholt has done all of it. He uses a wheelchair but also can walk a bit on crutches. He can swim 2,000 meters on good days.
He's also a senior vice-president at the Capital Guardian Trust Company, putting his finance degree to work. Nyeholt's schedule is such that, the night of the Hawaii swim, he'll be back on a plane, headed for a business meeting in Arkansas.
His responsible fiscal management thinking spills over to the Swim With Mike organization. Nyeholt said that 85 cents of every dollar donated goes back into scholarship funds.
"We don't waste money," he said.
And time. The April 22 event is a morning full of activities, from a masters swimming workout at 6:45 a.m. to clinics for swimming and water polo to a college athletes relay.
The swim-a-thon runs from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Scholarship recipients will be introduced at noon.
The unique aspect of the fundraiser is that participants don't have to swim at UH.
"You can swim anywhere, anytime, in the ocean, in your pool, in your bathtub," Hedlund said.
Those not wishing to swim can sponsor a participant or a pool lane.
Sponsorship sheets are available through the Web site: www.swimwithmike.org. Information is also available by calling (808) 256-8280 or through e-mail at email@example.com.
"I ask people to come to the event because it's a big pool party," Nyeholt said. "I'm so grateful about how much good has come out of what happened to me."