Nobody would have expected Shawn Meneely to become a well-known name in the pool industry, least of all him.
But many remember his accident and the subsequent lawsuit that changed history for the National Spa & Pool Institute.
Meneely was just 16 years old in 1991 when he dove headfirst into the pool owned by his friend’s grandfather in Kennewick, Wash. He started at the back of the diving board, ran to the end and sprang. Though his arms were extended upon launch, they had been drawn close to his body before he reached the water. His head hit the transition slope between the deep and shallow ends, causing his neck to break.
Meneely was paralyzed from the neck down. He had to miss the first half of his sophomore year of high school for a recovery that involved two surgeries and six months of hospitalization. He slowly regained some movement in his arms and shoulders; however, it’s limited and his fingers are still immobile.
But that’s not what made him a near-household name in the pool industry.
In 1993, Meneely and his family filed a lawsuit naming, among others, the National Spa & Pool Institute, stating that the slope dimensions specified in its standards were not safe for the diving board used. Furthermore, he said, the association knew this as far back as the 1970s.
After a few rounds of trials and appeals, NSPI owed Meneely $6.6 million (more than $8 million after interest), requiring the organization to declare Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Reorganization and re-emerge as the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. As part of the reorganization, NSPI sold its trade show, which is now called the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo.
Like APSP, Meneely moved forward in his next chapter. And the accident affected his life’s direction in more ways than one might think.
When he returned to his studies, he took an extra class after school each quarter to catch up. Amazingly, he was able to graduate with his class. During this time, as a teenager, he had to think about putting his trust together, and so the family hired a financial adviser. In working with the professional, it became clear that Meneely had a penchant for that industry.
“I was still a teenager and just learning about stocks and everything, and I showed an interest,” he said. “I asked [my financial adviser], ‘What do you think Reebok [stock] is going to do when they sign Shaquille O’Neal to a huge contract?’ We had a lot of phone calls talking about stocks. I think it was about my senior year in high school when he said, ‘You know, if you got a business degree, you could come over here and help me out.’”
Meneely did just that, graduating from Eastern Washington University with a double major in finance and economics.
These days, the 39-year-old works for UBS Financial Services in its Seattle office, partnering with the very professional who encouraged him in the past and still serves as adviser on his trust. Together they manage a highly specific niche overseeing financial matters for special needs individuals all over the country.
“I like being able to help other people in my situation dealing with disability and just trying to navigate life while at the same time handling their investments and doing budgets,” Meneely said.
In many cases, they are managing trusts funded largely through litigation, but some are set up by wealthier families who can create their own.
“They have to be eligible for Medicaid and supplement security income so that they have the ability to have some sort of insurance,” Meneely said. “So it needs to be put into a special needs trust to be able to do that. We help along with the trustee to do that for them.”
Meneely focuses on special needs individuals in his volunteer time as well, serving on the board of the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. The organization performs a range of functions, including providing support and information to individuals who have suffered brain injuries, as well as their family members. The group also performs advocacy, both on a personal level to place an individual in a needed living situation and on the legislative level. For instance, the group supported the Lystedt Law, the nation’s first statute involving concussion safety in youth sports.
Meneely also occasionally visits hospitals to counsel individuals who’ve suffered injuries.
His most recent life landmark occurred last August, when he married Julie Wood. The two had attended high school together and encountered each other tangentially. “We took a class together our freshman year,” Meneely said. “I remember her being the athletic trainer who taped my ankles for [sports] before my accident. Then she moved away our sophomore year.”
Last year, the two reconnected on Facebook. Julie Meneely, who lived in Arizona, offered him sightseeing tips for his business trip there. “We just kept talking and kept talking. And there you have it,” Meneely said. She has since moved to Seattle.
In addition to being an avid Seahawks and Mariners fan, Meneely’s favorite thing is traveling, with an emphasis on warmer areas such as Maui, where he went on his honeymoon. These climates are slightly easier on him physically because his body has a hard time regulating its temperature.
Though Meneely loves the beach and sometimes gets in the water there, he has only been in a pool once since his accident. “I do get the chills when I see people diving into a pool,” he said. “But I don’t believe that they’re all bad or everybody’s going to get hurt. It just kind of has given me a little bit more open awareness …
“Do I have a jaded view against the pool industry? Definitely not.”
Looking back at what happened, Meneely said he hopes some good came of it. “Our purpose from the get-go was to get some improvements to the system, so other people don’t have to experience what I’m going through because of [the accident],” he said. “I’m hopeful that it has helped.”
Note: The PSP Expo is owned by Hanley Wood, which also owns this magazine.