By Artoor Minas

After a popped tire caused Joel Wilson to fall from his bicycle while on a ride near the San Lorenzo River, he stood up, began walking, felt okay, and thought nothing of it — until the next morning, when the pain caught up with him. Wilson, long distance coach for the UC Santa Cruz swimming and diving team, had to see a doctor.

The news was costly: he had a broken hip and will need an operation, the procedure costing upwards of $50,000.

As a part-time UCSC employee, Wilson is not eligible for health care coverage through the university, despite the full-time hours he logs.

“Coaching alone is around 24 hours a week,” Swim Team Head Coach Kim Musch said. “He also instructs P.E. classes and works with the Masters. Unfortunately, coaching is not enough hours in [the university’s] eyes to provide health care.”

In an effort to help fund Wilson’s operation, the swimming complex at the East Field House is hosting the Joel Wilson “Break a Leg” Aqua-Thon on Saturday, June 9.

In the Aqua-Thon, swimmers will have two hours to swim up to 200 lengths, and they will attempt to acquire as many pledges as possible for each length. Direct donations will also be accepted, and all proceeds from the fundraiser will go directly to Wilson’s medical expenses.

“You have to know this guy to have a real response,” Musch said. “People are coming to us asking, ‘How can we help?’”

The event, which is open to anyone, is expected to have at least 150 swimmers, including UCSC swim team alumni, members of the current squad, as well as members of Santa Cruz Masters Aquatics, an organization co-founded and coached by Wilson since 1989.

“We are going to do the best we can to raise the money for Joel,” senior swimmer Jason Martin said. “He’s done a lot for us as far as spreading his love of the sport to other swimmers.”

Wilson, who is in his fifth year as a coach at UCSC, is known as a tireless swimming instructor who spends countless hours at the pool.

“He’s a great role model,” junior Payam Saljoughian said. “He’s got an amazing work ethic, he’s at the pool every day and his knowledge is a big part of our success.”

Wilson’s dedication was showcased when he returned to practice on crutches the week after the accident.

“Joel’s spirits are so high,” Saljoughian said. “He doesn’t express any pain or anger. He’s very humble.”

The Aqua-Thon is an opportunity for those close to Wilson to show their appreciation for his hard work.

“Swimming is a big part of my life,” sophomore distance swimmer Elizabeth Seelos said. “You know he loves what he’s doing when he spends countless hours at the pool coaching with no medical coverage and no pay. It’s amazing what he does here for us.”