It is the loss of a man who stamped both the floor of his pool and the surrounding community with a reminder of values key and fleeting: Accountability, Perseverance, Commitment, Integrity, Humility, Courage, Respect, and Pride.
NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Jim Wood, the founder of Berkeley Aquatic Club Center of Excellence, was honored on Saturday with the unveiling of the Jim Wood Memorial Pool and Celebration of Life memorial.
Approximately 500 guests came through Berkeley Aquatic Club Center of Excellence to celebrate the life of Jim Wood and to share stories and memories of the legendary coach that passed away January 4, 2019 at the age of 69.
Wood founded BAC in Berkeley Heights in the 1970's and opened his second "dream" location in 2015 in his hometown of New Providence. Wood's biggest passion had always been coaching competitive swimmers, with the understanding that good coaching can develop young athletes in ways beyond faster swimming. He is known for taking great athletes and giving them the opportunity to become great people.
His BAC athletes won many state championships, held first place national rankings, and metaled at every major international competition, including the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Many of his swimmers earned High School All American Honors, and he was very proud that all of his seniors continued their educations at four year colleges.
In a tribute video, USA Swimming colleagues spoke highly of Wood's character, passion, and life lessons he instilled in his swimmers. He leaves a national legacy. In 2015, he was voted as one of the "30 most influential People in Swimming Over the Past 30 Years." He served as President of USA Swimming in 2006. He went on to serve as President of United States Aquatic Sports and was a member of three Olympic Delegations. In 2011, he was inducted to the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame. At the time of his death, he was the chairman of the USA Swimming Steering Committee, a member of the USA Swimming Board of Directors, and a member of the USA Swimming Foundation. He most recently received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
At Saturday's Celebration of Life, Tristan Formon, BAC Head Coach, said, "Jim connected with each one of us -- to some of us, he was a coach, mentor, a colleague, support -- father, a friend."
Mayor Al Morgan, a childhood friend, said, "Jim was a guy we all admired as kids -- and he drove a 65 Mustang convertible." Morgan said, when Wood had difficulty securing a new location in Berkeley Heights, "we welcomed him with open arms in New Providence -- you are a hometown boy," Morgan said to Wood. He purchased the former Panasonic property for Berkeley Aquatic to come to New Providence. "He was an inspiration to me and a lot of people sitting here today. What a great influence he had on everyone -- celebrate Jim's life -- celebrate and continue his dream."
Carrie Ellis, a BAC graduate who came back to help Wood with the new facility, unveiled to the large crowd in attendance the naming of the facility's two pools -- they first named the practice pool for longtime swim instructor and coach Towney Brewster and then she said the Olympic size pool is officially named "Jim Wood Memorial Pool."
"We put together a Jim Wood Top 10 memory list," said Ellis -- 10 groups of presenters came up to present memories of Jim from his childhood days, the 80s, 90s all the way up to the 2019 graduating seniors.
No. 10, Union Catholic principal Sister Percylee Hart, RSM: "Jim -- in 1964, as a freshman senator of the Class of 68, Union Catholic was still in its founding years -- the time was right for students like Jim and his fellow student council leaders to think big in their leadership roles. -- We granted permission to host a rock concert to raise money. Jim learned a valuable life lesson through that experience. Given the freedom to fail, it helps you to succeed. The leaders of the school gave three kids the opportunity to fall flat on our faces. They gave us the confidence to take risk. And let me tell you, succeed they did. History was made when The Who rocked UC on November 29, 1967. Thank you Jim. In all, 9 name bands played UC during the concert years. It was Jim and his fellow leaders that had the vision and determination to launch this exciting period in our school's history," said Sister Percylee.
She continued, "Jim's enthusiasm and commitment stayed strong through the decades. He exemplified the school's core values of community, compassion, responsibility, respect and honesty that he demonstrated while in high school."
No. 9, Matt Janson, class of 1996, spoke on behalf of a fellow BAC graduate Jessica Lichtenstein about Jim's notebook: Lichtenstein said that when the notebook came out, "we knew it was time for one of his classic and usually really painful swim sets. It was about him helping you to achieve your goals, and it was about pushing you as hard as you could go so you could dream of bigger goals you ever thought imaginable."
She added, "I made Nationals -- the only reason I made it was because I had someone cheering for me." -- "We do share one thing -- we share the blood, sweat and tears of Jim Wood running through our veins. We are all his children -- how lucky are we. -- We did it -- it is up to us now to keep his legacy -- to be the humans he believed us to be. To impart the important lessons he imparted on us to the next generation. He made us into champions -- but truly he is the biggest champion I've ever met. You will be missed but never forgotten."
No. 8, longtime swim instructor and coach Towney Brewster: "Welcome back Berkeley alumni. -- We love Jim, we didn't always like him," he said. Towney talked about facing Jim's wrath when missing practices due to prom. And how much Jim hated this time of year due to swimmers graduating and leaving the program to go to college. He wanted to have a post graduate year at high school. Townie said, "[We now] say goodbye to our  graduating seniors, we also say goodbye to Jim."
No. 7, Elissa Ryan, a 1999 BAC graduate: She swam at BAC and Rutgers and went on to coach at Watchung Hills. "I am here today as a [BAC] coach -- I have been coaching since 2004 and I love it. --- My favorite memory is how I got my nickname." And she told the story of how she received the nickname "Ralph." -- "The easiest part of this has been coaching -- giving back to the sport and the team that has taught us all valuable lessons both in and out of the water. We all learned so much from Jim and we will treasure them forever. Thanks Jim, for being the model coach, stand-in parent, boss, mentor and friend anyone can ask for. We are all better people for having a relationship with you."
No. 6, Katie Nolle -- "mother of Paul Nolle, who graduated BAC in 2010 and went on to swim for Princeton: She shared Jim's motto -- "there are no failures in competitive swimming just different levels of achievement -- that is Jim Wood." -- "Lessons he taught us and the values he instilled in each of us helps keep the memory alive in this extraordinary man. Jim and BAC will be forever in our hearts. He touched our lives in so many ways. [He] provided us with many memories and continues to inspire each of us with life lessons and sayings."
No 5, 2019 graduating seniors: "He watched his swimmers work and achieve their goals regardless of their skill level. He pushed everyone to their highest level -- which would involve a lot encouragement through yelling. Everything that Jim taught me will stay with me and help me approach life with a winner's mentality. Another 2019 graduate said, "Jim truly inspired people -- [he gave the swimmers] a sense of confidence --- if you don't have that confidence going into it -- you can breakdown very easily. Having Jim there being confident in your abilities, even if you may not be yourself -- that means so much and makes the world of a difference. Knowing that there is someone that believes in you and someone that is going to push you and tell you the truth no matter what -- there's nothing that can beat that feeling. Failure is something that high schoolers have to go through. You can't get better if you haven't broken down before. We have to learn how to do and get back up -- don't accept defeat. The inspiration that he gave us is probably the most valuable things that we are going to get in our life. I think that is our biggest take away -- as a high schooler going into college -- take that mentality with you. It's that belief that no matter what is going on in your life -- always get back up. For all of us that is Jim's most valuable lesson."
No 4, Nick Smagula, a 2013 BAC graduate: "[I'm] a proud five year survivor of the Berkeley team. Jim was a mentor, coach, father figure and friend," said Smagula. He talked of Jim introducing him to swimming governance -- Chair of US Athletes Committee. "Jim's kids automatically garnered respect from around the country. Jim held us at the highest of standards in and out of the pool." -- He recited the words on the bottom of the pool --[8 of the swimmers' values that are the Berkeley way of life including pride, respect, commitment, integrity, and accountability] He explained that the work with legislation is important and is bigger than ourselves -- legislation -- work for something bigger than ourselves. "It is not about us -- never about him -- even in defeat, it was about others. The athletes always came first. Continue his legacy. -- It's about taking great athletes and giving them the opportunity to become great people."
No. 3 -- Mike DelDuca, co-founder of the "old BAC": "I go way way back to the 1970s," said DelDuca. "Dad had a wacky idea of building a pool in Berkeley Heights in a green house. -- Jim came in and asked if the property was for sale. He said he wanted to coach. --- He wanted to start a team. We talked about it. I was lucky enough that he let me be involved. We started Berkeley Aquatic. -- The first season, we had a handful of swimmers. By summer Junior Olympics, people stood up and took notice. 'Who are these kids and where did they come from.' From there, people started coming.
One thing Jim did that struck me -- if someone screwed up and weren't working hard enough -- Jim sat them in the bleachers and had them watch the other swimmers getting better," said DelDuca.
"He cared about the swimmers in and out of the pool -- he was intense, but he truly cared about each and every kids that swam at Berkeley Aquatics."
No. 2, Deirdre Ryan and Jenny Moyer represented the late 80's and 90's: -- "He taught us that respect has to be earned. We are still using a lot of that -- his legacy continues," said Jenny Moyer.
"What I learned in this pool has gotten me to where I am in my life. The lessons that we learned at Berkeley has carried me through school, vet school, parenting. my job and learning about improving yourself and not let failure knock you down," said Ryan. "We are all incredibly fortunate to have this shared experience with this incredible man." -- "I am so fortunate to have this family and I hope you all feel the same."
"He taught us grit," said Moyer, and joked about the pit [original BAC pool]. "We got a tremendous amount of grit from those facilities," she joked of the condition of the original pool built in 1977. -- "He achieved his dream [of the new facility] -- [this] is very poignant to us."
No. 1 came from Matt Janson 1996 BAC graduate: Janson told the lessons of understanding the relationship between swimmer and coach involves honesty, trust, humility, respect -- "things that have stayed with all of us impact our daily lives." He said, "Jim's favorite quote -- 'a coach's main job is to not to take young athletes and create great swimmers but to take young athletes and create great adults'."
He said Jim's tall task was to get his kids to "buy into his philosophy to improvement. You can only get faster if you put yourself in a position of suffering and fight through it. These are big asks."
"The guy put his whole self into the program -- never took a day off. He did it for us because he believed in us. He was doing it right next to us. When you see that as an athlete, I think it becomes an immorality to do anything less than your best."
"I think you can see he left us a blueprint for finding happiness in our own lives. He built something from nothing. He put all of himself into every aspect required everyday. [He] found success, he found happiness, he touched the world around him."
"Try and bring him forward. One thing that I think we know about Jim that would be his choice in how we move forward."
Nancy King, BAC co-owner spoke on behalf of the Blue Streak Aquatic foundation and Wood's desire to never have finances keep a swimmer out of the pool. To continue his legacy of generosity and giving back, a need based scholarship program for BAC swimmers and future swimmers will be launched this fall.
Blue Streak Aquatic (BSA) is the 501 (c)(3) non-profit parent organization which operates to provide support for Berkeley Aquatic Club; maintain BAC facilities; foster USA Swimming and participate in New Jersey Swimming through the development of national and international swimmers; and foster sportsmanlike conduct and competition.