By Dave Schwab
You don’t need to have a disability to Swim With Mike during the second annual athletes scholarship fundraiser for the physically challenged, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 5 at UCSD Canyonview Aquatic Center, 3320 Voigt Drive.
Founded by spinal-injured La Jollan Michael Thomas and his wife Betsy, the benefit is an inspiring, fun and challenging way to improve the lives of spinal-injury victims.
“These (spinal-injured) kids come in here and they see other kids like them and it helps them to know there’s facilities out there that can help them improve,” said Thomas, whose spine was injured in a car accident in Cuba 14 years ago. He was told he’d never walk again, but thanks to private sports trainer Ted Dardzinski, Thomas can get around.
“This event raises money for scholarships for spinal-injured kids to go to college. It’s really so important for these kids to get an education, to know there’s a better future for them.”
Injured at age 54, Thomas lost the use of his hands and couldn’t perform simple tasks like making a fist or brushing his teeth.
Helped by Dardzinski, who’d begun a new technique for spinal cord injury called Project Walk, Thomas has reacquired much physical capability — including the ability to walk — through focus, patience and hard work.
“When I was injured in middle-age, I’d already lived a great life,” Thomas said. “But I thought about these kids who are injured surfing, or who get off a football field injured when they’re 18 years old, and have their whole lives in front of them.”
His wife Betsy chimed in, “I’m amazed at how many people are touched by spinal-cord injuries, who know somebody or who’ve been involved personally,” she said. “If you’re involved, whatever your level of recovery is, you’re involved for life. It’s something so totally devastating. Your life changes in a split second and it will never be the same.”
Swim With Mike was actually begun more 33 years ago at Thomas’ alama mater, USC. The Thomases have been on the board of directors of that organization since 2000. The parent organization has raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years to combat the effects of spinal injuries. The couple thought, why not start a satellite chapter in San Diego?
When approached, UC San Diego agreed to host a Swim With Mike Event for San Diego County.
“In 2011, the first year, we raised $15,000,” Thomas said. “Becky wants to make it $50,000 our second year. Whatever we get, if Swim With Mike gets another kid into college, it’s been successful. Hopefully, we’ll get more people to turn out and swim for challenged athletes this year.”
On Dec.10, 1998, a chicken crossed the road in Cuba and led to the car accident that changed Mike Thomas’ life forever. He was diagnosed with a C-7 incomplete spinal cord injury. Since that day he's trained hard and fought for mobility. With the support of family and friends he has gone from catastrophe to conquest to a fulfilling life without boundaries. Dave Schwab
If you go
What: Swim With Mike, annual swim-a-thon supports Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. The event has raised $12 million for 119 scholarships for athletes with acquired disabilities to continue attending UCSD, San Diego State, Cal Western School of Law, and Cal State San Marcos.
When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 5
Where: UCSD Canyonview Aquatic Center, 3320 Voigt Drive.
Activities: Free pre-event pancakes and adaptive yoga session, kayak jousting, relay contests, entertainment
Cost: Collect pledges and sign up to swim, or contribute support at
Mike’s 10-point Recovery Program: