LOS ANGELES, CA (KSTP) Jack Jablonski isn’t letting a life-altering spinal cord injury get in the way of achieving his dreams.
He’s 19 years old now and just last month he started college at the University of Southern California.
There’s a remarkable story about what attracted him to USC, and it all started when members of the Anaheim Ducks visited Jack in the hospital.
PArents send kids to college all the time, but this isn’t the usual send-off.
“There was a point where I couldn’t even fathom this would happen and here we are at the airport heading out to LA. I think it’s a dream come true for him,” said Jack’s mom, Leslie Jablonski.
Three years after a traumatic, life-changing hockey injury, Jack is off to college.
“It’s an exciting time, but it’s very nerve-wracking,” Jack said in January.
And now, Jack is still wearing the colors of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School.
But he’s definitely a University of Southern California Trojan.
“From the visions that I had coming here and now the reality of being a college student here at USC it really has lived up to what I thought it would be,” he said of his new home.
We visited Jack after his first month in college.
After being dependent on so many people after his 2011 hockey injury, he’s taking a major step toward independence.
“It can’t be easy, especially now when you’re away from friends and family. Are there some nights when you get a little lonely?,” asked reporter Tom Hauser.
“For sure. I think it happens to everyone in college in general. Having things amplified by quite a bit being in a wheelchair and being away from the support and help you get at home. There are nights you sit staring at the ceiling and you can’t fall asleep…but I realize everyone goes through it,” said Jack.
So what led him to the University of Southern California? Clearly it isn’t any connection to hockey. Instead, his remarkable path here to southern California started at USC’s famed swimming complex more than 30 years ago.
In 1981 a former all-american swimmer at USC named Mike Nyeholt was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.
One of his All-American teammates, Ron Orr, founded “Swim with Mike,” a scholarship program for physically-challenged athletes.
The massive pool at USC was built for the ’84 Olympics, but Swim with Mike actually used it first.
The first annual fundraiser raised $58,000. Last year’s 34th annual event raised over a million dollars.
USC alum Will Ferrell is a big supporter.
“I knew I couldn’t cure paralysis. I knew that, but the opportunity to be able make a difference in Mike’s life and then Mike wanting to help other people led us to where we are today,” said Orr.
It also led Jack Jablonski to where he is today.
“Swim with Mike” has changed many lives and I’ve been lucky enough to be one of them,” he said.
Jack is one of 175 college students across the country who’ve received scholarships from “Swim with Mike.”
He learned about it from members of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team who visited him in his Minneapolis hospital room.
“If it wasn’t for Swim with Mike and what their foundation has done for me who knows where I would be right now. I for sure wouldn’t be at the University of Southern California,” Jack stated.
“Education is the great equalizer. And this is something the young recipients can do themselves. Parents aren’t doing it for them. They have to get the grades. They have to get in school. They have to be able to stay in school,” said Orr.
Jack’s goal is to just be another normal student at USC, with an identity beyond his wheelchair.
“I like to be unknown going into a friendship and obviously open up about that after. I really do just want to have normal friendships.”
Jack lives in a USC apartment a block from campus, saying “it’s not too bad actually.”
It’s obvious you can take a hockey player out of Minnesota…but you can’t take hockey out of a Minnesota boy.
Hockey sticks stand in the corner and a “Jabby” blanket on his bed.
And pictures of his hockey past.
With family and friends 15-hundred miles away, Jack couldn’t make it through college without his personal care attendant Danny Antonio.
“What I told his mom is that I just want to be able to help him achieve part of his goals,” said Antonio.
“It’s gonna be great. Getting to know him and building a great friendship. I literally would be dead if Danny wasn’t here,” said Jack of Danny.
Instead, Jack is thriving.
He’s taking three classes at USC’s Annenberg journalism school, and making his weekly call to a sports radio station in Minnesota–jabbing the hosts about how warm it is in California.
“My goal is to come back pretty dark and I’m on a good pace,” he said.
Ron Orr couldn’t be more proud to have Jack on campus. “I wish all the donors could see and meet Jack because it’s what they’re investing in because it really makes a difference.”
And Jack couldn’t be more proud to represent Minnesota and all the people who helped him achieve his dream.
“I’m very thankful for what I have in Minnesota and if it wasn’t for every one back at home I wouldn’t be able to be here.”
Jack plans to major in broadcast journalism with dreams of a career in radio and television.
“Swim with Mike” has raised 15-million dollars for scholarships.
There’s also a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth receiving one.