When Mike Savicki, A90, one of the top wheelchair marathoners in the country, received the 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Tufts Athletics Department on Oct. 15, it was the latest in a long line of accolades for the star athlete.
“Mike Savicki’s story is an inspiration to each and every one of us,” says Bill Gehling, A74, G79, director of athletics. “For everyone, the challenge of facing and overcoming adversity is a test that defines our character. Mike has passed that test with flying colors. He has not only overcome a life-changing disability, but he has gone on to redefine what many think of as possible. As a person, athlete, role model and advocate, Mike is exceptional.”
Savicki was a three-sport varsity athlete (soccer, basketball and track) out of Franklin High School in Massachusetts. He came to Tufts on a Navy ROTC scholarship and was a member of the varsity soccer team. He ran the 1989 and 1990 Boston Marathons. Along with his degree in political science and international relations, Savicki was recognized by NROTC as an Outstanding Naval Aviation Candidate.
He was poised to begin serving in the Navy when his life changed forever. In November 1990, while he was training to become an F-14 pilot, Savicki sustained a severe spinal cord injury after diving into the waters off Pensacola Beach, Fla.
Though his physical abilities had changed, he remained undeterred. After spending eight months in rehabilitation, he entered Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. In 1994, he was just the second student in a wheelchair to earn an MBA degree. He delivered the commencement address.
Introduced to wheelchair sports while in rehabilitation, he pursued it like a champion. “Sports were more fun than staying in bed feeling sorry for myself,” says Savicki, who received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Tufts Alumni Association in 2000.
He’s completed more than 55 marathons, including 18 Boston marathons, and he is a five-time champion of that race, including four straight from 2007 to 2010. He is the only person to ever finish Boston both on foot and in a wheelchair.
A triathlete since 1999, Savicki became the first quadriplegic person to finish the 70.3-mile Beach to Battleship Half Ironman Triathlon in his home state of North Carolina in 2009. He also played quad rugby for 13 years and spent three years as a national team member competing for a spot on the Athens 2004 Paralympic team. In the past decade, he has won 69 gold medals at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
His professional life includes working as a management consultant, serving as an advocate for people with and without disabilities and freelance writing, among other ventures. He is working on his first book.
Savicki founded Scratching Post Communications, a communications enterprise, and volunteers on the board of directors of the nonprofit No Barriers USA, which promotes innovation, education and assistive technologies to inspire people with challenges to live full and active lives.
In an Oct. 27 post on his blog, Savicki wrote: “Every, well, once-in-a-lifetime, something amazingly life-affirming rolls your way. It gives meaning to the countless hours, days, weeks, months and years we plug away doing what we’re doing to simply keep the train called life heading in the right direction. Earlier this month, Tufts University awarded me their highest athletic honor, and it wasn’t for my otherwise average stint on the Jumbo varsity soccer team, rugby team or intramural fraternity basketball team over two decades ago. It was for what I have done since. After I broke my neck.”
Tufts Athletics established the Distinguished Achievement Award to recognize extraordinary contributions to sports by individuals with Tufts and/or New England connections. Past recipients include Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan and award-winning filmmakers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern, both J86.
Paul Sweeney, Tufts’ sports information director, can be reached at email@example.com.