US Olympic Diver Wendy Wyland Dies at 38

ROCHESTER, NY, September 29. WENDY Wyland VanDerWoude, an Olympic bronze medalist diver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and a 1982 World Champion, died Saturday. She was 38.

Wyland, who gained recognition in the 10m platform and was named one of People magazine’s "50 most beautiful people" in 1990, was pronounced dead at 4:59 p.m. Saturday at Rochester General Hospital.

Her former coach, Betty Perkins-Carpenter, said about her former prodigy, whom she discovered when Wyland was only six: "She was loved by many. She was popular with all the other divers and coaches all over the world loved her. She’s going to be sorely missed. She was another daughter. We were really close."

The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s office performed an autopsy Sunday. An official cause of death is pending.

According to her father, Vernon R. Wyland, Wendy had been suffering from migraine headaches for the past 22 months.

"She kept saying, 'I’m going to beat this thing,'" Wyland said. "I’m in total shock because of this."

Wyland said his daughter went to work Saturday at the Rochester Institute of Technology but fell ill and was driven home to Webster. He said she went to bed thinking that she would feel better.

Wyland said that when her husband, David, was unable to revive her, paramedics were called. She was rushed to Rochester General where she was pronounced dead.

Wendy Wyland moved from her native Penfield, NY, to Mission Viejo, Calif., when she was 14 to train under Hall of Fame coach Ron O’Brien. "That was a difficult decision to make," Wyland said, "but we wanted what was best for her, and it was an excellent opportunity."

Perkins-Carpenter said she could tell immediately that Mrs. VanDerWoude — a 2001 inductee into the International Swimming Hall of Fame — was going to be special.

"She was like Babe (Didrikson) Zaharias. She was a natural athlete, an awesome athlete," Perkins-Carpenter said. "She was doing dives that senior divers weren’t doing yet when she was just 12.

"All you had to do is see her in anything she did. She could have been a champion in any of her sports."

In the 1982 Quayaquil World Championship, she gained prominence by winning the gold medal in the 10m platform. At the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela, she won a gold medal in platform and captured a silver in 3m springboard diving.

Swimming World’s World Platform Diver of the Year in 1982 and ‘83, she was a favorite in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She finished third in the 10m platform behind China’s Zhou Jihong and Michele Mitchell of the United States.

"We were so proud of her," Wyland said. Shoulder injuries forced her to sit out most of the 1985 season, but she competed in the 1986 Madrid World Championships, winning a bronze in the 10m platform behind Chen Lin and Lu Wei, both from China.

Mrs. VanDerWoude, who returned to the Rochester area in the mid-90s, was the mother of a 3-year-old daughter and a stepdaughter. She was hired in January 2002 to run the Webster Aquatic Center. She left the center in June 2002.

"It’s tragic," said Mark Yeager, commissioner of the Webster Parks and Recreation Department. "She was a young vibrant woman. She was friendly, outgoing and a very, very nice person."

Lou Spiotti, Director of Human Performance at RIT, said Mrs. VanDerWoude became the head swimming and diving coach this year and also became the pool manager at RIT. She was the diving coach last year.

"It was pretty significant for us to have someone of Wendy’s caliber both as a competitor and, more importantly, as a human being," Spiotti said. "She had a magnetic personality and people at RIT here just embraced her so quickly. She was a champion and she carried herself like one. We’re just devastated by it. It’s hard to believe someone that young was taken from us.

"We just feel terrible for the family. She was a wonderful mother and spouse and I know that she’s going to be terribly missed. It’s heart-breaking."

Perkins-Carpenter said that she will use her videos to do something that Mrs. VanDerWoude had been planning on doing herself before her death.

"I just gave her all my videos and she was going to put them all together for her daughters," Perkins-Carpenter said. "She just asked me for them so she could put it all together for the girls so they could watch them someday."

About three weeks ago, Perkins-Carpenter was in a meeting when she got a visit from Mrs. VanDerWoude that she will remember forever.

"She came to my door and said, 'I know you’re in a meeting, but I just needed a hug.' So I gave her a hug and off she went," Perkins-Carpenter said as she fought back tears. "And that’s the last time I saw her."

In addition to her father and husband, Mrs. VanDerWoude is survived by her daughter Abigayle and stepdaughter Carley; her mother, Beth; a brother, Mark, and his wife, Lisa; and two sisters, Jill and Gayle.

Memorial arrangements are pending.

–Daryl Bell and Ben Jacobs
Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester, New York