When the Man on the Ladder Became the Man in the Water

art swim with mike cropped

As races go, it wasn’t much of a contest.

A 50-something year-old Dr. Arthur Bartner swimming against four-time Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans. Clad in a 1920’s style cardinal and gold tank suit, the man on the ladder was about to take the plunge to become the man in the water, ready for the challenge.

Until the race started.

“Janet had already lapped me before I even hit the water,” Art recalled recently. “I’m not a water guy. Even on the best of days.”

While the (mis)match was over before it started, it helped achieve its goal: To help raise money for Swim With Mike, an annual event to generate scholarship funds for physically challenged athletes across the country.  

The event originated in 1981 as Swim For Mike, created to support former USC All-America swimmer Mike Nyeholt, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a dirt-biking accident. Former teammates created a swim-a-thon to help raise money to purchase a specially equipped van for him.

First-year donations topped $58,000, more than enough to pay for the van, prompting Nyeholt to suggest that excess funds be used to sponsor future swim-a-thons for disabled athletes. Swim For Mike became Swim With Mike.

Art and the Trojan Marching Band have supported Swim With Mike at USC since the outset, with many alums swimming and leading fund-raising efforts. Art’s participation earned him the organization’s Volunteer of the Year Award in 2020. Although the honor was announced a year ago, the presentation was delayed until Saturday, April 10 at 4 p.m. due to the pandemic. You can see a preview here, with a soundtrack provided by the TMB, and watch the event live on YouTube and FaceBook.

Over its 40-year history, Swim With Mike has raised $25 million to provide 256 scholarships to athletes at 134 universities nationwide – including a Trojan Marching Band alum.

Carlos “Mike” Hoover was a gifted trumpet player in the TMB and music education major who aspired to be a band director. He suffered a major stroke just before 1988 Rose Bowl appearances, leaving him unable to move the muscles in his mouth and fingers with speed and precision necessary to be a musician. Following rehab and support from Swim with Mike,  he was able to return to USC and earn his degree. in 1999.

“That made it very personal for me,” Art recalled. “Through the scholarship he was able to complete his education. The fact that a band member was a scholarship recipient took it from being a great event to something that was very personal.”

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