Passages: Coach James “Jim” Martin Wood Leaves Unparalleled Legacy To Aquatic Community-Updated

James “Jim” Martin Wood, age 68, leaves behind a legacy that few will ever match.

Updated: Family and friends are invited to attend the Memorial Visitation on Monday, January 21, 2019 from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Paul Ippolito Berkeley Memorial 646 Springfield Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ. 

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. in Our Lady of Peace Church, South St., New Providence on Tuesday, January 22, 2019. 

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider donations in Jim’s name to the Berkeley Aquatic Club or the Blue Streak Aquatics both located at 629 Central Ave., New Providence, NJ 07974 or to the Center for Hope Hospice 1900 Raritan Rd., Scotch Plains, NJ  07076 or at

James “Jim” Martin Wood, age 68, passed away on January 4, 2019 leaving behind a legacy that few will ever match.

There are no adequate words to describe the void and pay proper tribute to the legacy that Jim Wood has left for the swimming community.

Jim earned the respect of everyone he met.  He held many leadership positions within the swimming community but he always saw himself as a coach and mentor to young adults.

“A coach’s main job is not to take young athletes and create great swimmers, but to take young athletes and create great adults.” – Jim Wood

Jim founded a successful swim club team in New Jersey while simultaneously influencing the future of swimming on a global scale. His passion for the sport and his desire to see it expand and grow inspired the entire swimming community for decades. He spoke extremely well before a large audience and he was often outspoken in his messages on the floor of the USA Swimming House of Delegates.  Many of his friends will remember Jim as the champion for bringing back USA Swimming Junior Nationals, mostly because he saw so many young swimmers benefitting from this first step to being recognized on a national level.

Jim graduated from John Hopkins with an Art and Science degree in 1972 and went on to University of North Carolina grad school.  He became UNC’s men and women’s swimming head coach from 1975-1977.  Rich DeSelm who is entering his 12th season as the head coach of the UNC men’s and women’s swim teams swam for Jim and credits Jim for laying the foundation for the success of the women’s team, which achieved third place finishes at the AIAW and NCAA Championships.   On a UNC side note, Jim’s graduate school roommate was Tar Heel basketball player Roy Williams.  Williams went on to become the head coach of the UNC basketball program in 2003 and took the time to record a public video congratulating Jim on his successful tenure as the President of USA Swimming in 2010.

Jim gained national attention for being very active on the administrative side of the sport, setting high ethical standards.

His first national responsibility was as the Chairman of USA Swimming’s Time Standards Committee in.  He served 12 years (1992-2004) as Chairman of the USA Swimming Olympic International Operations Committee and was a member of USA Swimming delegation at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.

He was elected as the first ever swim coach to become President of USA Swimming in 2006 and 4 years later he was elected to serve as President of United States Aquatic Sports.

“Running a national organization like USA Swimming requires a different set of skills from coaching young swimmers — but the two jobs aren’t all that different.  In both, my role as a leader, I’m trying to help a person and an organization reach their goals. It’s important to give people the resources they need to help them succeed.” – Jim Wood

In 2011 Jim was inducted to the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) Hall of Fame and in 2015 he was voted one of the “30 Most Influential People in Swimming Over the Past 30 Years”.  2017 he was elected as one of the ASCA’s Vice Presidents.

At the time of his passing, Jim was Chairman of the USA Swimming Steering Committee, a member of the USA Swimming Board of Directors and a member of the USA Swimming Foundation. On a local level he
previously served as the General Chairman of New Jersey Swimming.

The Berkeley Aquatic Club (BAC) swim school he founded taught over 8,000 school kids how to swim. In 2012 it was reported that BAC competitive swim team had won 57 out of the last 64 state championships.  At least 30 BAC swimmers have held first place national rankings and have raced 38 times at U.S. Olympic Trials since 1980. 

BAC athletes have represented the United States and “medaled” in every major international swimming competition including the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. Jim coached Scott Goldblatt, a USA Olympian who won silver in 2000 and gold in 2004 as a member of USA’s 800 Free Relay, and Lauren Reynolds in the lead up the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games.  Reynolds won a Paralympic Gold medal in the women’s 400 free (S7 disability class) setting a new world record.  She earned two silver medals in the 100 free S7 and as a member of the 400 free relay.

At the 2001 FINA World Swimming Championships Jim was on the pool deck in Fukuoka, Japan to watch the USA swim to a third place finish in the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay.  Jim may have been the only one to notice that two men swam in a different order.  While this may have escaped everyone else’s attention, he urged the National Team Director to self-report the violation, resulting in the relay team’s disqualification.  Jim was a man of integrity and this is but one example of his character.  In 2003 the USA Swimming Award, the organization’s highest honor was presented to Jim in recognition of his contributions to the sport of swimming.

In 2004, he had a vision to build his own aquatic complex.  It was a dream that started with the purchase of the 2004 USA Olympic Trials pool from Long Beach, California.  The pools were shipped across country and were to become the cornerstone for his vision, “The Center for Excellence”.  But the pools sat in storage for years while he considered more than 50 properties and fought countless zoning issues across several municipalities while searching for the optimum location.  In 2008, a significant amount of the valuable stainless steel for the Myrtha Pool was stolen from a warehouse and likely sold on the black market.  Fortunately, the pools were insured.

In 2015, Jim’s dream facility finally opened in New Providence, New Jersey, just miles from Jim’s childhood home.

Beyond swimming, more than 50 BAC swimmers have earned High School All-American Honors. All Berkeley graduates have gone on to attend four-year colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Penn, Texas, US Military Academy at West Point, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and UNC, to name a few.  More than 20 BAC graduates have earned NCAA All-American Honors.

Over the course of his coaching career, Jim was stubborn……Jim was outspoken……and Jim was a man of the highest integrity. As a swim coach Jim Wood will always be loved.

“My favorite part of being a coach is the relationship I develop with the athletes. Every Thanksgiving Day morning, we have practice, and from 75 to 100 alumni drop in — ones from 30 years ago, and some from last year.” -Jim Wood

Each Thanksgiving morning, one can only assume that alumni from more than a quarter century in New Providence, New Jersey will come back to the Berkeley Aquatic Club (BAC) to remember their swim coach and to reflect on all the valuable lessons taught by their mentor, Jim Wood.

“I’ve been extremely blessed with never having to work a day in my life.” – Jim Wood

Jim is survived by two siblings.  His sister Terry Commodore is two years his junior, and youngest brother Bob Wood is three years younger.

The family will be announcing a Day of Celebration for the Life of Jim Wood and Swimming World will update this post as more details come forward.


  1. avatar

    A sad day for us all.
    Thank you Brent for this fine tribute.
    Having known Jim well since 1974 I am sure he would want us to carry on and not emphasize his accomplishments but they must be recognized. I will remember Jim for the way he cared for me with respect, inspired me to be a better person first and for sharing some tough Jersey love.
    RIP my friend – our world is better for having you in it.

  2. avatar
    Pete Clark

    Words are at a loss but I have said prayers for my friend a peer and swimming professional since I found out his situation. Jim and I first met about 25 years ago when I was coaching in Pennsylvania, as I was welcomed into his world he challenged me to grow in all aspects in the sport which lead to my being hired by USASwimming as the Eastern Zone Sport Development consultant. In the 91/2 I spent Jim always welcomed me to his deck to share what observed and learned about the coaches and programs on the Easr Coast. Thank you Jim.

  3. avatar
    Steve Betts

    A great guy who did a lot for our sport. Happy for Jim that he led such a meaningful life and helped others every step of the way.

  4. avatar
    Cathy Durance

    So well written, Brent; a great tribute to a wonderful coach, mentor, and leader. My sincere condolences to the BAC family, his sister and brother, to USA Swimming as well. I knew Jim for over 30 years and had such great respect for his integrity and character. His impact on thousands of young people cannot be measured and will continue to be felt for generations to come. He will be greatly missed.

  5. avatar
    Ron Van Pool

    A true leader and mentor. Always placed the athletes first. So sad! Jim we’ll miss you immensely.

  6. avatar
    Hill Carrow

    Jim Wood was our varsity swim coach at UNC and also served as Faculty Advisor for our fraternity. He did an outstanding job leading us as both athletes in the pool and students on campus. He obviously took those leadership skills to the top of the swimming world, serving as the president of USA Swimming and then the president of US Aquatic Sports. All of us who have been involved in, and love, the aquatic sports world will truly miss Woody’s leadership and significant contributions.

    Hill Carrow

  7. Marcy Mestel Gold

    such a loss for the NJ swimming community and the entire USA swimming family.

  8. Kara Muscillo

    Sad day for the swimming world. Swim easy Coach!

  9. Eileen Ryan Kurtz

    Fantastic coach, mentor, and person! The decks of swimming will not be the same without him! Thank you Jim! ❤

  10. avatar
    Tim Murphy

    Our world has lost a good man. Rest in peace Jim. You lived a life of honor and distinction. Your legacy will live on for generations. . Thank you for being a mentor and a good friend.

  11. avatar
    Michael Lawrence

    A great man, leader and friend. Tremendous insight always, deeply respectful to all. I believe however, that his first National leadership position in USS was the old Age Group Planning Committee (a sub-committee of the Planning Committee at the time). No other c oi ACH did more to build our NGB.

  12. avatar
    Sam Freas

    Jim’s heart was always with swimming. A great person and coach with tremendous
    loyalty to his athletes, colleagues, and his beloved sport…He will be missed….Thank you Brent for your tribute…
    God bless

  13. avatar
    Glen LaPoint

    What a Great Legacy to leave for the young people to follow. In Jim’s many years of coaching he vhad such a positive effect on so many young adults, it will be a long time till we see the likes of Jim Wood again. May he rest in Eternal Peace. Deepest condolences to the Wood family.

    • avatar
      Sue Pitt Anderson

      Jim and I were fierce competitors in the years I was coaching in New Jersey. But we also made each other better by challenging each other and our swimmers. Scarlet vs Berkeley was often a classic down to-the-wire battle. At the same time we worked together to improve NJ Swimming and became good friends, sharing laughs, sharing ideas and occasionally a little swimming gossip. We didn’t always agree but there was always respect. There were some times when Scarlet did not have access to training time at Rutgers and Jim offered us pool time at Berkeley. That’s the kind of guy he was.

      • avatar
        jessica lichtenstein

        I remember with fondness the Scarlet vs Berkeley. Hope you and fam are well.

  14. avatar

    God Bless Jim and his family

  15. avatar

    Worked with Jim for years as Secretary of the Eastern Zone – never met anyone who could take an issue and explain it as well as he could. Wonderful person – swimming was his passion in life. He will always be remembered.

  16. avatar

    Wonderful man. God bless him.
    Brent thanks for this wonderful text that helped me know about him and keep his legacy alive.