We’re sad to share the news of the passing of our longtime and revered Executive Director, Chuck Wielgus. Chuck served for nearly 20 years and passed away on Sunday in Colorado Springs. Wielgus died of complications from colon cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2006 and Wielgus battled while continuing to steer USA Swimming to record growth. He was 67.
Joining USA Swimming as Executive Director in July 1997, Wielgus was the longest-tenured chief executive in the Olympic family. Wielgus added duties as Chief Executive Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation at its inception in 2004.
“This is an extremely sad day, as we lost Chuck Wielgus, one of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside. He will be missed by all of us in USA Swimming and all his friends and colleagues around the world. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Nancy, and his entire family in this difficult time,” said USA Swimming Board of Directors Chair, Jim Sheehan. “Chuck was one of the finest CEOs in all of sport and his leadership of USA Swimming has made it the premier National Governing Body in the Olympic movement. Chuck’s selflessness, compassion, and intelligence have been hallmarks of his work with the staff, Board of Directors, athletes, coaches, and volunteers of USA Swimming.”
Well-known for his core objectives of “Build, Promote, Achieve,” Wielgus led USA Swimming to new heights with notable achievements in several key areas.
In the year before Wielgus arrived, USA Swimming had fewer than 200,000 members and membership growth has doubled to more than 400,000 members. Along the same lines, revenues increased by 600 percent, including an expansion of corporate partners to approximately 15 annually. In 2001, Wielgus formed the Club Development Division to provide swim teams across the country with resources and expertise to help them improve as small businesses and with their swim performance.
Wielgus’ vision to promote swimming to wider audiences resulted in securing annual year-round network television coverage of championship swimming events, including the Pro Swim Series, National Championships, World Championships, U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Pan Pacific Championships, and the made-for-TV Duel in the Pool. The creation of the Golden Goggle Awards celebration and fundraiser furthered the efforts by giving swimming a high-profile event to recognize that year’s accomplishments.
Wielgus was instrumental to growing the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming into a major showcase event in a 17,000-seat entertainment venue. The 2016 Olympic Trials was completely sold out with more than 200,000 tickets for 15 sessions at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. During Wielgus’ tenure, there were 156 podium performances by the U.S. Olympic Swim Team in five Olympic Games, including 33 medals (16 gold) at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The medal count has equated to approximately 33 percent of the total Team USA count.
Wielgus was a driving force behind the formation of the USA Swimming Foundation, which provides financial support for National Team athletes and helps to save lives through swim lessons with the Make a Splash initiative.
Wielgus’ distinguished career included numerous awards, including a 2016 National Honorary Doctorate from the United States Sports Academy Prior recipients include Prince Albert of Monaco, Bud Selig, Billie Jean King, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Donna de Varona, Pat Summit, and Condoleezza Rice. He was awarded the first-ever Association of Chief Executives of Sport (ACES) Chief Executive Leadership Award in 2015, received a Lifetime Achievement in Sport award from the El Pomar Foundation, and was the 2011 recipient of the National Great Comebacks Award for his cancer survival and contributions.
Within swimming, he was named among the 30 Most Influential People in Swimming for the 30-year period of 1975-2015 and has earned awards from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, American Swimming Coaches Association, and the College Swimming Coaches Association.
He is survived by his wife Nancy, daughters Savannah and Shelby, sons Chip and Tommy, and four grandchildren. Born on February 6, 1950, Wielgus grew up in Larchmont, New York, and earned his M.Ed. from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., in 1974 and a B.A. in history from Providence College in 1972.
An avid pick-up basketball player, Wielgus built a successful professional career that reflected his love of sports at all levels. Prior to his work at USA Swimming, he was the executive director of the Senior PGA Tour Tournament Directors Association. From 1989-96 he was the executive director of the United States Canoe and Kayak, the national governing body for that Olympic sport.
From 1983-89, Wielgus was the executive director of the Hilton Head Island Recreation Association, where he led the effort to produce the master plan for the resort island’s public recreation facilities and sports programs. From 1974-83 he was a coach and recreation director in Woodstock, Vt., where he coached basketball, lacrosse and swimming and served two terms as the president of the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association.
In addition to his work guiding organizations, Wielgus had a passion for writing, and co-authored three books with award-winning writer Alexander Wolff: The In-Your-Face Basketball Book, The Fan’s Book of Sport Nicknames, and the Back-In-Your-Face Guide to Pick-Up Basketball.