The Chuck Wielgus Blog: Getting Personal
July 15, 2013
Sixteen years ago, on July 15, 1997, I began working as USA Swimming’s executive director. I stepped into the role that my predecessor, Ray Essick, had held for 21 years. A former Head Swim Coach at Southern Illinois and Harvard, Ray led the Swimming Committee for the AAU and then relocated from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs when USA Swimming was officially formed in 1980. Ray was a “swimming guy” and built a strong infrastructure of programs and support for the National Team.
I came to USA Swimming from outside the sport. Early in my career I’d been a summer league swim coach, but my primary sport was basketball. Following almost a decade of coaching and working with other youth sports, I’d transitioned into the business side of sport where my skills took me into various management and marketing roles. I came to Colorado Springs from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida where I was serving as the executive director for the Senior PGA Tour Tournament Director’s Association (now the Champions Tour).
What attracted me most to the job at USA Swimming was my love for the Olympic Movement and the opportunity I saw to help the sport of swimming reach a higher place in the pecking order of sports in the United States and worldwide. In 1997, there was virtually no swimming on television and the only significant corporate partners were Speedo and Phillips 66. There was no website, no magazine, and no real recognition for swimming athletes outside of the Olympic Games. I believed these were things that could be changed and said so during a presentation to the USA Swimming Board of Directors.
During my first few months on the job, I did a lot of listening. I met with athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and staff members. If there was one word that characterized virtually every meeting it would have been the word, “passion.” Every single person with whom I met was so committed to the sport … I was awed by this universal passion, and it motivated me to find a way to help lead the sport to a higher place. I had to find a way to harness this universal passion and rally everybody around a central theme.
It was through this process of listening that after six months on the job I was able to make public a new organizational business plan built around the three core objectives of BUILD, PROMOTE & ACHIEVE: Build the Base; Promote the Sport; and Achieve Sustained Competitive Success. USA Swimming’s growth and successes over the past 16 years can be directly linked to these three pillars that remain our business touchstones. And that same passion remains firmly in place today with our athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.
Today the sport of swimming is in a much different place than it was in 1997. We’ve established strong marketing platforms through our website, Splash Magazine, national events, television partnership with NBC, and through the USA Swimming Foundation and the Make-a-Splash learn-to-swim initiative. These platforms have helped us to attract corporate partners and we now have a solid stable of ten partners. These partners not only provide significant financial support to our sport, but they also promote their association with swimming through advertising and in many cases sponsor individual athletes.
Swimming’s profile was enormously enhanced when a young athlete named Michael Phelps came onto the national scene at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Michael was one of a small handful of American swimmers who came home without a medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, but everyone in the swimming world saw his potential and over the next three Olympic Games, Michael’s performances were like pouring jet fuel on an already burning fire and the sport of swimming took off. Today, our sport is clearly the preeminent sport in the Olympic Games and our membership has surged to include more than 350,000 individual members.
I started this blog to provide an insider’s look at how the sport of swimming works. It’s also an opportunity for me to share my personal observations as USA Swimming’s executive director. I’ll be writing about many aspects of our sport, and I’m certainly open to suggestions for topics that people would like to see covered. I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.