Largest Gift Ever Leads to Record-Breaking $1,517,000 Total at 31st Annual Swim With Mike
The 31st Annual Swim With Mike at USC has once again celebrated a record-breaking achievement: raising $1,517,000, more than in any previous year. This new milestone is due largely in fact to Karin Larson, who gave a gift of $500,000.Larson’s generosity marks the largest single donation in the history of the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund.
An associate of Mike Nyeholt at the Capital Group, Larson suffers from Hereditary Spastic Paraplegic, a rare genetic disease that over the years has gradually affected her ability to walk. “I feel empathy for the young people that have had their lives dramatically changed,” says Larson, who has used a wheelchair for the last 15 years. “They need some reason to have hope that they can have a decent future.”
Her gift will go towards an endowment to fund an executive director position for the organization. “I really had a desire to see that the program continues in a professional way,” Larson says. “I am very supportive of the program because for kids who have been very active as an athlete and then get injured and wake up one day in a wheelchair–that’s a horrible shock. For me and my disorder it was a gradual process, but for those young kids it has got to be tough.”
Though Larson was unable to attend the USC swim-a-thon on April 16, McDonald’s Swim Stadium was abuzz with the news of her donation and the success of the day’s events. The silent auction raised $38,000 from handmade quilts, autographed memorabilia, hotel stays, special event tickets, and other priceless items donated by supporters. The Treasure Chest booth made $5,100 on the sale of Swim With Mike branded merchandise such as sunglasses, tumblers, towels, and the annual t-shirt.
Nearby on campus, the first-ever Walk, Run ‘n Roll allowed non-swimmers and other track stars to show their support for SWM by taking laps on Cromwell Field. Groups such as USC’s ROTC groups, the Department of Public Safety, and the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative participated in fun and exciting relay races.
Hardcore swimmers had been showing their skills since the previous day, as the 31-Hour Swim, in honor of SWM’s 31 years, came to a close during the event. USC’s NROTC, Swim Team, Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, and recipient Mike Fritschner’s fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa kept one team member swimming laps in a pool at all times for the full 31 hours.
The USC Spirit Leaders rose to the annual Yell Leader Challenge, breaking all previous year’s records and swimming 7,335 laps in the week leading up to and during SWM, raising $50,000 sponsored by the Pilalas family. Onlookers enjoyed the annual dive show and belly flop contest, as well as entertainment from The Coveralls, SoCal VoCals, Trojan Dance Force, USC Song Girls, and USC Trojan Marching Band.
Delicious aromas from the annual BBQ and the Wienershnitzel truck wafted over the event as the hungry swimmers and supporters got their fill. At the main ceremony, long-time SWM supporters were honored. Jack and Barbara Cameron were awarded the Claire Snow Volunteers of the Year Award for their many years of supporting the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund.
Former USC Swim Coach Peter Daland celebrated his 90th birthday at the event, and more than 85 swim team alums attended in his honor. Daland coached Mike Nyeholt and Ron Orr, and led the Trojans to nine NCAA titles, the second most in NCAA history, and 93 NCAA individual and relay titles.
Recipients Nate Higgins and Yvonne Lara-Harris spoke and thanked all the attendees for their generosity. Higgins was captain of his high school cross country and wrestling team. He sustained a T-4 spinal cord injury when he fell off a roof while working as a painter. Now an active swimmer, he is currently working on his master’s degree in human resources with a concentration in labor relations from Capella University in Minnesota. Lara-Harris just graduated from the USC Rossier School of Education with a masters of arts in teaching and a credential. She competed in volleyball, basketball and track and had a track scholarship to Cal State Bakersfield until an auto accident between her freshman and sophomore year resulted in paralysis.
“We are overwhelmingly pleased with this year’s event and especially with the significant gift that Karin Larson made,” says Executive Director Ron Orr. “Because what it means is that Swim With Mike will have a staff in place that will continue the program after Mike and I. It’s something that we always dreamed of, and we hope to add to that, that endowment, so that the program will always be here.”