Freshman overcomes accident, receives full scholarship

first_imgA week after Jack Jablonski’s head crashed against the sides of the rink in a high school hockey game, doctors told him he would never walk again.Three years later, after intense rehabilitation and adjusting to life in a wheelchair, the Minneapolis native joined USC’s freshman class in January thanks to a scholarship funded by USC’s Swim With Mike program.Jablonski left behind a close-knit network of family, friends, and teammates in Minnesota to enroll at USC in January as a spring admit. He is currently on the planning committee for this year’s Swim With Mike event.“Because of the money that’s been raised with these people, it makes it possible for [people who have had a serious illness or accident] to go to college,” said Jablonski who is majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. “It’s a life-changing foundation for people who have faced challenges in life they never expected would happen.”Swim with Mike was founded at USC in 1981 after All-American swimmer Mike Nyeholt was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Ron Orr, his teammate and the assistant director of athletics at the time, started raising money for his medical expenses.“[Mike] had told me that money was too much for them to take, so he said let’s help someone else,” Orr said. “I was working at the university fundraising and set up a scholarship to help somebody else out.”The event raised $58,000 in its first year, and to date, the foundation has raised more than $15 million. Sixteen students currently attend USC on the full, $400,000 scholarship, and recipients who choose to remain closer to home can still benefit from a partial scholarship elsewhere.“The organization’s success is a testament to the Trojan family,” Orr said. “I think people care about us and when they hear of someone in need who can benefit from a USC education, they want to help.”The opportunity first came for Jablonski through Nyeholt’s sister-in-law, Maureen, who works for the Anaheim Ducks in Minneapolis and believed he would be a good candidate for the program started in honor of her relative.Players from the National Hockey League team came to him in his hospital room to tell him about the scholarship, and Jablonski and his dad flew in for an official visit last year.“We have medical expenses other people don’t have to deal with,” Jablonski said. “The scholarship allows us to be able to go to such a prestigious college as USC and other colleges across the nation.”Jablonski plans to pursue a career in radio and television. Back home, he hosted a weekly one-hour segment of a three-hour radio show entitled “Hockey In Minnesota” and hopes to use Annenberg’s broadcasting facilities while at USC.“It’s amazing all the opportunities at USC they open for us,” Jablonski said. “I feel like I’m allowed to live as normal a life as possible. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”“Jack’s a perfect example of why the program works,” Orr said. “The courage to come across the country is hard for any kid, but he did it. When recipients do that, they grow so much self-esteem in addition to education. Living independently is really part of the recovery.”Jablonski said the most challenging part of his transition to college has been adjusting to life on his own.“It’s hard being in a wheelchair, being someone who isn’t necessarily the person people want to approach automatically,” Jablonski said. “Beyond that, it’s getting used to the independence and not having the support I had at home. But overall, I’m very satisfied.”Jen Lopes, a member of the planning committee, said she grew up attending Swim With Mike events with her family,“Once I started working with the program and meeting the recipients, I was hooked on their incredible stories,” she said. “You really realize the things we take for granted and so meeting them has been the reason I’ve stayed a part of it.”The 35th Annual Swim With Mike event will be held on April 11 at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.“We’re all fortunate to be a part of Swim With Mike,” Jablonski said. “If it weren’t for them, a lot of us wouldn’t be in college today.”last_img read more