Swim Coach Wades Through Turmoil, Emerges as Savior : Athletics: When John Woodling was named to head the Golden West Swim Club, he was surrounded by skeptics. Now he’s awash in success.


The workouts either begin or end in darkness, but the sun is shining brightly these days on the Golden West Swim Club in Huntington Beach.

The club, like many others in Southern California, was originally run as a college public service--in this case by Golden West College. But a budget crunch five years ago forced the college to sever economic ties. The college did retain the right to hire the club’s coach in exchange for free pool time.

Enter John Woodling, a retired aerospace worker and a coach with 25 years of experience at other swim clubs.

Woodling, 66, created some waves of discontent when he was hired over other candidates by Golden West Athletic Director Tom Hermstad, but it is difficult to argue with his success. Among his accomplishments:


* Club members have won six individual medals and have swum on six relay teams that won medals at last summer’s Olympic Festival.

* Five swimmers have qualified for the upcoming Olympic trials.

* Two swimmers have received college scholarships.

* In the season that concluded in August, two swimmers advanced to the junior national meet and nine qualified for the senior nationals.


For a team that was once in “pretty bad shape,” according to Woodling, the club now has more applications than it can handle. About 230 swimmers from ages 6 to 19 compete for the club, which costs $65 a month. Most are from Cerritos, Long Beach and West Orange County. Woodling spends most of his time with the senior swimmers, the 13-19 age group.

The first few months were difficult, however. Several parents, many of whom favored someone else to be coach, were shocked when Hermstad hired Woodling, who was working with a club program at Cypress College. According to Hermstad, several parents pulled their children from the club when Woodling became coach.

“I remember going to the first booster club meeting,” Woodling said. “It was something. I took a lot of heat.”

But Woodling was intent on making the club a winner.


“When I was at Cypress, I always saw the Golden West Swim Club at meets,” he said. “It had a number of kids, but it didn’t seem to be productive. There’s so much talent in this area, but many of them get sidetracked into water polo because this is a big water polo area.”

A few swimmers followed him, but many of those in the pool today heard about the program through word of mouth.

"(Before Woodling got here), I heard that there wasn’t a lot of discipline here,” said Christa Thomas, 16, of Huntington Beach, a national-class swimmer in the individual medley.

Erin Nomoto, 15, of Cerritos, followed Woodling after little success competing in individual medley and backstroke events for other clubs.


“At other clubs, I wasn’t doing so well,” she said. “John has better workouts, and he knows a lot about swimming technique.”

Woodling has been a steadying influence since he was hired.

“I have felt very confident with John from day one,” said Hermstad, a resident of Whittier. “He is a stable, solid coach, and hiring him has turned out better than I had hoped for.”

Woodling came cheap. He receives $1,400 a month, much of which he uses to purchase new equipment.


“I’m lucky I have a decent amount of money to live on for retirement,” he said. “This is something I do because I like it. I don’t have to do it.

“I want to give (swimmers) a good, healthy body and teach them how to function in life, to show them how to do the best they can in everything. That to me, in the long run, is what sports should be doing.”

But competition remains a barometer of success. Competitive swimming training has become “such a science” according to Woodling. Because he has a background in computer programming, Woodling uses a computer to prepare daily, individualized workouts. Then he posts them on the lanes for each swimmer to see.

Workouts at the open-air pool begin well before sunrise. During the winter, fog often shrouds the pool deck.


“It’s a bear out here,” he said. “Many mornings I have to hear (the swimmers) hit the other end of the pool because I can’t see them do it.”

But Woodling hasn’t missed a day since he started. “I’m pretty proud of that record,” he said.

At an age when many men would enjoy retirement, Woodling is working as many hours as his younger counterparts. He drives the 30-mile round trip from his home in Whittier to the Golden West College pool twice a day, four times a week, and once each Saturday and Sunday to run workouts.

Woodling was asked how much longer he intends to coach.


“I’ve been asking myself that,” he said. “I haven’t been able to give it up yet. There’s always some young kid coming along that makes you think he’s going to be a star, and so you stick around longer.”

Then, with a grin, he said, “I’ll probably fall over (dead) on the deck here someday, and that will be when I retire.”