Mike Nyeholt '78 to deliver division commencement address

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The Swim with Mike co-founder to talk about the importance of physical therapy for patients who have suffered life-altering accidents.

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14

Mike Nyeholt ’78 (the Mike behind the scholarship-generating Swim with Mike) will deliver this year’s commencement speech at the division’s ceremony, taking place on May 12 at 11:30 a.m. at Bovard Auditorium.

Nyeholt is the co-founder and chairman of the board for Swim with Mike, an annual swim-a-thon that raises scholarship money for physically challenged athletes.

In his commencement address, Nyeholt plans to reflect on the impact physical therapists have had on his own life after a 1981 motorcycle accident left the then-24 year old USC business school graduate and three-time All American swimmer paralyzed from the chest down.

“I hope to give my perspective on the importance of physical therapists to people like me who have suffered an accident or injury,” Nyeholt said. “They serve an important role in giving us hope that we’re going to be able to come back and lead successful lives.”

After his injury, Nyeholt worked nearly everyday with physical therapists to regain movement in his arms and legs.

“I knew to be successful in athletics and life, you have to work hard,” said Nyeholt, who was in the hospital for three months.

Giving back to others

After Nyeholt’s accident, Sr. Associate Athletic Director and longtime Nyeholt friend Ronn Orr ’79 set out to raise money for a specially equipped van for Nyeholt with a fundraising event called “Swim for Mike.”

That initial swim-a-thon wound up raising $58,000 — more than twice the cost of a fully equipped van. With extra money to spare, Orr and Nyeholt decided to start the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to athletes like Nyeholt who had suffered a physically debilitating injury.

“A lot of others gave to me,” Nyeholt said of the decision to give back to other physically challenged athletes. “When you get support from family and friends to the degree that someone like me has, you have to feel that you want to help others too.”

Now in its 37th year, the fundraiser has provided more than $18 million to nearly 200 student athletes across 97 universities, according to the Swim with Mike website.

Today, despite doctor’s initial prognoses and thanks in part to physical therapy, Nyeholt can walk with the aid of crutches. He also managed to build a successful career as a senior vice president for sales and marketing at a money management firm — a career from which he has since retired.

“When I first had my injury, my outlook on my life was probably fairly muted,” Nyeholt said. “But I was actually able to overcome the injury itself and lead a very, very successful life.”

USC’s main ceremony takes place May 12 at 8:30 a.m. at Alumni Memorial Park. The division’s ceremony takes place at 11:30 a.m. at Bovard Auditorium. For more information, go to commencement.usc.edu

Posted 03.20.2017