“Life is ten percent what happens to you and 90 percent of how you respond to it.”
This inspirational quote, attributed to famed football coach Lou Holtz, is one that Mike Jarvis memorized as an athlete in high school. The message became more meaningful in college after a car accident paralyzed him from the chest down.
Jarvis, BBA ’13, vividly recalls the details. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, November 2009. Five fellow PI Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity brothers were enroute to a retreat in Gatlinburg, Tenn., when driver Ryan Atkins lost control of the car.
“We ran into a guard rail on the left side, which undercut the SUV and caused us to flip three or four times,” says Jarvis, a finance major in UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business.
The accident forever changed the lives of Atkins, Jarvis, Jon Doerger, Kyle Quinn and Dan Rehard. Atkins and Jarvis suffered the brunt of injuries; both sustained damage to their spinal cord and are paralyzed. Atkins, a fellow Lindner Honors-PLUS scholar and finance major, remains at home and continues his daily physical therapy. Doerger, A&S ‘12, fractured his pelvis, Quinn, BBA ‘13, fractured a few vertebrae, and Rehard, BBA ‘14, sprained an ankle.
For Jarvis, the road to recovery was a long one. He spent two months after the accident in a hospital undergoing intensive physical therapy. After that, he was home bound.
Jarvis never let it slow him down. Although he missed nine months of school, he remained adamant about graduating with the cohort of freshmen he enrolled with in 2008. The Lexington, Ohio, native didn’t return to the UC campus until June 2010, but stayed on track with his studies through online courses.
“All the professors and all the staff in the Lindner Honors-PLUS program have been great about helping me out; I couldn’t have gotten through the online setup without them,” Jarvis says.
Less than a year after the accident, life once again got busy. He returned to classes on campus, secured a co-op position and traveled abroad.
An eventful life was the key to leading a normal life, he says.
“Getting back to normal would have been impossible without help of friends and family,” he says. “They made it easy to come back—and want to come back.”
To help make the transition back to campus, friends and family rallied around him.
Friend Kyle Neyer, BBA ‘12, and his family, raised $50,000 to buy a handicap accessible van that Jarvis acquired in February 2011. His fellow PIKE fraternity welcomed him back with open arms, as he returned to living close to campus and commuting back-and-forth in a motorized wheelchair.
He was nervous about landing his first co-op assignment at General Electric in Evendale. Until that point, everyone—from therapists to friends and family—had been doing many things for him.
“I was never truly on my own,” he says. “What if I dropped a pencil?”
The job was his first real try at independence, he says. “The people were great; they went the extra mile to open doors, grab stuff off the copier” and equip his computer with a mouse that had larger buttons for easier operation, he says.
Now, with three co-ops under his belt, the experience helped define his interests in contract management, “a great mix of finance and law,” he says. He is now thinking about law school.
With renewed confidence, Jarvis was ready to fulfill a Lindner Honors-PLUS requirement: international travel. With the help of Lindner Honors-PLUS program staff, he obtained a grant from the Winnie Unnewehr Fraser Endowed Scholarship Fund. The fund, established from the Marge and Charles J. Schott Foundation, helps physically challenged students meet educational costs. Bobbie Unnewehr, sister to Winnie and the late former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, set up the fund on behalf of Winnie, who was paralyzed from a horse accident but later went on to compete as a target shooter. The financial support allowed Jarvis to defray the cost of first-class airfare, a nurse and handicap accessible bus.
The group of business scholars stayed two weeks at Soongsil University in Seoul, where they took classes and visited companies, including Procter & Gamble, for a better understanding of global marketing.
On campus, Jarvis remains just as involved. He’s a member of the Student Advisory Committee to the University Budget (SECUB) and chairs continuing education for the PIKE fraternity, bringing meaningful programs of alcohol awareness and financial management to fellow members.
Though much has changed for Jarvis in the two years since his accident, one thing has remained the same: his appreciation for friends and family.
“Every person in the accident is still in PIKE, and we all still keep in touch,” he says. “Other than Ryan, who still lives at home, most of us see each other daily, at least weekly.”
Jarvis realizes that he can’t change the past. “I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me,” he says. He tries not to think about ‘what if,’ and he certainly doesn’t look too far into the future. For him, control comes in daily measures; when he rises and decides to make it a great day.
“Each day I do my best to stay positive and stay motivated, to continue getting better,” he says.
People often tell him he has a great attitude. He says he owes it all to friends and family.