The McHugh brothers are known for their record-setting times for Penn swimming. From 2008, when Brendan McHugh stepped onto campus, to 2019, with the graduation of youngest brother Colin McHugh, the brothers have made waves in the pool and the Ivy League.
The middle McHugh brother, Dillon, also swam at Penn. But in March of 2019, Dillon was skiing at the Winter Park Resort in Winter Park, Colo. with a group of friends from Penn swimming when he fell and experienced burst fractures in several of his vertebrae, according to his family. Dillion is currently paralyzed from the waist down with limited muscle movement
“He’s able to move some muscles below the waist; he has some feeling primarily on the right side, but the full extent of what his permanent state will be is not yet determined,” Brendan McHugh said.
During his time at Penn, Dillon was a leader in the pool, and held multiple Penn records in both freestyle and backstroke. In both 2014 and 2015 Dillon was named second team All-Ivy after finishing second in the Ivy League Championships. Dillon McHugh still holds one Penn record, as a part of the 2014 200-yard free relay team that finished with a time of 1:19.07.
Coach Mike Schnur, who has coached all three of the McHugh boys over the last decade, has grown close to the McHugh family.
“It’s a kick in the gut,” Schnur said. “You never prepare to hear something that’s so difficult that happens to someone you’re so close to.”
“[Dillon was] the loosest of the three, he was the wildest of the three, he was the most fun. He always had a fun attitude. He was always laughing at workouts," Schnur said.
Brendan McHugh, Dillon's older brother, swam for Penn from 2008 to 2012. Since the accident, he and his wife, Madison Poplawski McHugh, who played women's lacrosse at Penn, have been part of Dillon's support system.
“The swim team alumni have had an overwhelmingly positive response. [Especially from] a lot of my former teammates — a lot of them who still happen to be some of my best friends. We have a lot of overlap in our friend group. Between those guys a lot of them have been going out to visit him on a rolling basis,” Brendan said. “There’s a lot of great support in terms of people offering to do really whatever and help our family however they can.”
“There’s going to be a lot of stuff over the next few years that we’re going to do to support them. When you’re on our team and your four years is up as an active member of the team it doesn’t mean your time as part of the Penn swimming family ends," Schnur said.
"Somebody who swims with us as long as they have is part of the Penn swimming community forever, and I’m looking forward to helping do things to help support Dillon. I’m sure we’re going to have events, alumni outings, golf tournaments and things like that to help support Dillon through this process as we figure out what he’s going to need.”
The McHugh’s have set up a GoFundMe page and hope to continue raising money for Dillon’s future surgeries and the long road of rehab he has ahead of him.
“We’re hosting a fundraiser this Saturday at Blarney’s from 6 to 9 p.m. It’s between me, my wife, and the rest of our family,” Brendan McHugh said. “He’s going to need lifelong care, so I think fundraising is good.”
As far as where Dillon is now, Brendan believes that he’s well on the road to recovery.
“[Dillon] is doing really well considering the circumstances,” Brendan said. “I trained with him and have kind of been through the wringer with him, whether it's life or school training. I have zero doubts that he’ll be fine mentally.”