Staff Photo. Tim Vander Wood is the president of the Gwinnett County Swim League, which includes 45 teams and more than 6,000 swimmers this year.
Tim Vander Wood has been the president of the Gwinnett Swim League for the last four years, but is a longtime volunteer for a program that this summer encompasses 45 teams and 6,000 swimmers.
Vander Wood has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, establishing his own company, MVA Scientific Consultants, and raising four kids with his wife, Melanie. In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Vander Wood talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including doing expert microanalysis, his baseball allegiances and getting into race car driving.
CT: Where did you grow up?
TV: I grew up in Greenville, S.C.
CT: I've been there a number of times. It's a nice city.
TV: It's very different from when I grew up. It's a very nice little town. They've done a great job preserving the city and the core.
CT: Is it just the size, the spread that has changed from when you grew up there?
TV: Yes. It's much bigger.
CT: Blends into Spartanburg a bit more?
TV: There will eventually be one big city that runs from Atlanta to Charlotte. Greenville-Spartanburg will be right in the middle.
CT: What high school did you go to?
TV: I went to Wade Hampton.
CT: Where did you go to college?
TV: I went to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
CT: What was it about that school that worked for you at the time?
TV: At the time, I wanted to leave South Carolina. Everybody I knew was going to Clemson or USC and that sounded like doing four more years of high school to me. So I wanted to go out of state and I was offered a scholarship from the University of North Carolina.
CT: Academic or athletic?
TV: It was ROTC.
CT: What was your degree in?
TV: I got a degree in high school science education. But I never used it.
CT: Where did you go from there?
TV: I went on and got a master's degree at Florida State and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.
CT: All one right after the other?
TV: It took a few years, but back-to-back, yes. I got an oceanography degree from Florida State and met a professor there who encouraged me to apply at the University of Chicago in their geophysical sciences program, which I did.
CT: Were there any break going from one college to another?
TV: I had a brief stay at the University of Miami in between Florida State and Chicago.
CT: Where you teaching there?
TV: No, I was a graduate student. But the program wasn't really in line with what I wanted to do -- although it's a beautiful place to be.
CT: What career path have you had from those degrees?
TV: I did a brief post-doc at Arizona State, leaving a pregnant wife with a better job than I had in Chicago. She visited me in Arizona, got off the plane, looked around and said, 'I'm not going to move here.'
So I went back and got a job in Chicago. I worked for that company for several years and got an opportunity to come to Atlanta with them. A few years later, I left them to form my own company with a couple partners. That company (MVA Scientific Consultants) is now 20 years old.
CT: So your wife was OK with moving to Atlanta?
TV: Yes. She was from Miami, so Atlanta was a lot closer to what she knew than Chicago was.
CT: Did you meet her at the University of Miami?
TV: I met her at Florida State.
CT: So she went up to Chicago with you?
TV: Yes, we got married in Miami at the end of December and drove to Chicago. The first weekend we were there, it snowed 28 inches. But our marriage survived (smiling).
CT: How many years were you in Chicago then?
TV: I think the total was eight years.
CT: Did you live in the city? In the suburbs?
TV: We lived in the city, in what the real estate agents like to call Lincoln Park. But it's really Lakeview.
We were within walking distance of Wrigley Field.
CT: Did you become a Cubs fans?
TV: I did.
CT: Are you still?
TV: No, I'm a Braves fan.
CT: If the Cubs won the World Series, would you be happy for them though?
TV: As long as they didn't beat the Braves on the way there. Oh, actually, even if they did beat the Braves on the way there, I'd be happy for them.
CT: What does your company do?
TV: We are a scientific consulting company and we specialize in analyzing and identifying very small samples.
CT: Is there a particular application or a multitude?
TV: Many applications. We have done some CSI kind of work. We've done some art authentication work. We do a lot of environmental work -- what is this material that's found it's way here. And we do problem solving for industrial clients. We also do work in patent infringement cases.
CT: That sounds like a pretty diverse spectrum.
TV: It's a very broad spectrum of applications.
CT: I guess that keeps things interesting.
TV: It does.
CT: Your last name is a little unusual and you see it conjoined in different ways with the capitalization changing, too. Do you know the origin of it and why it is the way it is?
TV: Yes. I choose to keep it two words with a capital 'V' and a capital 'W'. I have sibling who have combined it with just a capital 'V' and I have a sibling who combined it but has a capital 'W' in the middle.
When my grandfather entered the country from Ellis Island, the original name, which was Van der Woude, got changed to Vander Wood at immigration. My father spelled it that way and I spell it that way. It's Dutch.
CT: When did you start swimming? Is it something you've done your whole life?
TV: I swam for an AAU team in Greenville when I was in junior high and high school. We didn't officially have a high school swim team at that point, although we did gather once a year, my last two years, to swim each of us for our high schools at a state meet. It became a varsity sport the year after I left.
CT: Do you have a favorite or best event?
TV: I'm a sprint freestyler now. I used to be a sprint butterflyer.
CT: How long have you been president of the Gwinnett County Swim League?
TV: This is my fourth year as president.
CT: How did you get involved with the organization to start with?
TV: It started, as it starts for most people who are on the board, by becoming involved in the neighborhood swim teams.
My daughter (Melissa) was a very good swimmer -- she swam at Georgia Tech -- and through her, we got involved in the swim team. My wife, Melanie, and I ended up taking over the Rivermist team and we ran it for eight years. During that time, I was recruited onto the board and served as the chairman of the technical planning committee for several years. Then was recruited to run for president and (laughing) agreed.
CT: Any idea how many kids you've seen come through the league?
TV: Many, many thousands. This year there's about 6,000 swimmers on 45 teams.
CT: Are most of them out of a community pool like Rivermist?
TV: Almost everybody is a neighborhood team. We have a few teams that are fully open and draw from a large area. But the majority of the teams are sponsored by their neighborhood pool.
CT: Each of them hire summer coaches?
TV: Their operations are pretty much up to them. We require some qualifications for safety. The coaches have to be CPR and first-aid certified and have background checks if they're old enough.
CT: Are there dominant teams?
TV: There are some teams that year in and year out are up there. The Duluth Thunderbolts are always up there. There are some coaches, that no matter what team they're with, are up there. The Creeds, Rick and Heidi, are always up there.
CT: With 6,000 participants, a lot of people might be aware of what the Gwinnett Swim League does. But for those who don't, would they have an opportunity to get involved if they don't have a neighborhood pool?
TV: There are pools that are looking for swimmers. You can contact the league if you want a recommendation. The rosters are closed unfortunately for this year, but next year.
I think my favorite thing about the league, and about swimming, is that it is the only sport I know of where males and females, ages 4-18 and of all abilities, all compete together. It's a great family environment. We have kids who take three minutes to swim the length of the pool and they get a hand. And we have two swimmers who have medaled at the Olympics -- Amanda Weir and Eric Shanteau.
We are one of the premier swimming locations in the nation and it's foundation is the Gwinnett County Swim League.
CT: Are there any memories that stick out to you in particular?
TV: One of my memories is my oldest daughter swimming in her first county meet and me realizing at that point what a good swimmer she was. There's a tape somewhere of me videoing her in the water and screaming "Go Melissa! Go Melissa! Go Melissa! Go Melissa!"
Then when we moved the county meet to Georgia Tech, which was still very freshly the Olympic pool, that was a huge event for the league.
CT: Did or do your other children swim?
TV: All of them swam for Rivermist.
CT: Do they all live around here?
TV: No, Melissa lives in Baltimore. Allison lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Blake, who is at Georgia Tech, and Melissa were both members of the Brookwood state championship teams. And Drew, my youngest who is still at Brookwood, is a member of a state championship team as well. But not swimming. He's a cross country runner and they got to go to national this year.
CT: Are you a fan of other sports, either playing or watching?
TV: I'm a baseball fan. I'm a big college basketball fan -- North Carolina, of course.
I play tennis, not very well, and I'm learning to drive a race car.
CT: Really? Where do you do that?
TV: There's several tracks around Georgia, one in South Carolina, but Road Atlanta is the closest track.
CT: How often do you do this?
TV: Not very much right now, but I'd like to do it once a month or so.
CT: When was the first time you hopped in a true race car?
TV: The first time, I've been in a car really outfitted for racing, was my instructor's car. I bought a nice sports car a few years ago and took it to the track to learn how to drive it. I just fell in love with the whole experience.
So I took that car to the track quite a few times, but realized if I wrecked that car, it would really make me mad. So I bought a 1997 BMW and I'm having someone turn it into a race car.
CT: What's the process when you show up at the track?
TV: They don't just turn you loose. You sign up with an instructor and probably spend, depending the organization, your first four, five, six full days at the track with an instructor in the car.
They'll let you drive. But they tell you, 'You have your hands and feet at the controls, the instructor is in charge of the car.'
CT: What was the first day on the track like?
TV: It's a very interesting mix of thrilling and terrifying. You are absolutely in the moment.
CT: Is this something where you plan on entering races?
TV: Ultimately, I will enter, just amateur races.
CT: What was your first car?
TV: My first car was a 1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88.
CT: Hand-me-down or acquired on your own?
TV: I traded a motorcycle for it.
CT: How long did it last you?
TV: Not quite a year.
CT: How did you get the motorcycle to trade?
TV: I bought the motorcycle. I spent several years riding a motorcycle. Even in North Carolina, in the winter, it was miserable on a motorcycle.
And when it's your only form of transportation, going out on a date on a motorcycle? That's a tough sell.
CT: What was your first date with your wife?
TV: My first date with my wife was in Tallahassee and we went to a music festival, an outdoor concert. Then later on we went for oysters and because I was poor, she paid.
CT: How long was it between the first date and the second date?
TV: After our first date, she moved to New York for a year. She went to the Parson's School of Design and then moved back to Tallahassee. We re-met by accident at a laundrymat.