Patty Waldron has been immersed in aquatics since she was about six years old, when she begged her parents to let her join a summer swim team because she wanted to eat Jell-O sugar out of the packet with her finger and go to restaurants after meets like her neighbors did. She’s been in the water and on the pool deck ever since, taking over the Latin head swim coach position from Steve Howard in 2008.
Since then, the boys’ team has won four state championships (2013-2016) and the girls’ team has finished in the top five every year.
Waldron’s enthusiasm for the sport, commitment to swimmers of all skill levels, and extensive experience make her a well-known and highly regarded coach. She’s also just a really cool person. Get to know Coach Waldron through a little Q&A.
Q&A with Coach Waldron:
Where were you born?
Where’d you grow up?
I moved to Charlotte when I was 5 for my dad’s work in textiles. We lived in Stonehaven off of Rama Rd.
Where did you go to school?
Rama Rd Elementary (1-4 grades), First Ward Elementary (5-6), McClintock Junior High (7-9), East Meck (10-12)
And where did you go to college? What for?
Chapel Hill, where I received a Bachelor of Arts in Education majoring in health & PE for K-12. I thought I wanted to teach and maybe pick up coaching.
Tell us about your swimming journey.
My neighbors, the Buckleys, were on the Rama Swim Club team and invited me to a meet. There was yelling and excitement and all these people and you got to eat Jell-O on your finger and you got to go out to eat after (we NEVER went out to eat). I begged my mom to join the team, and she said, “Look, you don’t know how to swim.” I took two weeks of lessons and just by imitating what I’d seen the older kids do, I was on the summer team by the end of the season. I went on to swim for Frankie Bell at the Johnston Y, and eventually became a recruited walk-on at UNC-Chapel Hill. I earned a scholarship my sophomore year
What events did you specialize in?
200 fly, 100 fly, 50 fly, the mile, and three-fourths of the 400 IM
How did you start coaching?
I was swimming at MAC with Coach Jeff Gaeckle during breaks at UNC, and started coaching at Sardis Swim & Racquet Club during the summer. Jeff offered me a job at MAC (Mecklenburg Aquatic Club, now known as SwimMAC) after graduation. I worked there from 1984 until March 2012.
When did you start working with Latin?
Steve Howard knew he was heading toward retirement and came to me to ask if I would be his replacement. I was honored, but I’d never really swam high school and didn’t know what it was about, and things were busy at MAC, so initially I said no. But then my job situation at MAC changed and I could manage to do both, so I called Steve back.
My first year coaching at Latin, I was very intimidated because Steve Howard was so loved that he left big shoes to fill. But Steve shared a lot of his wisdom with me. I didn’t want to come in here and change things, but just slide in and see what it was all about before making any changes. Having Doc there too made the transition very seamless. The first year went really well and helped me learn strategy. There’s a lot of strategy.
What’s your approach or philosophy for coaching?
My goal is for every member of this swim team to get something out of it, whether they’re going on to collegiate swimming or they’re learning their first flip turn. I teach first and coach 2nd. I try to get to every person every day. Just a touch point. Let everyone know that you know they’re there, and you noticed. Everybody counts. Do I feel a little pressure to be successful and win things? Maybe 10%. The rest is all about coaching your kids and making their experience with swim team valuable.
What’s your schedule on a typical day?
3:51 a.m. – wake up time on M/W/F (T/Th sleep in until 6 and it’s awesome!)
4:30 – leave the house
5:00 – 10:00 coach masters swimming at MSA
10:30-1:30 office hours, practice planning for middle school/high school/masters, admin, email, etc. and eat
2:20 head to pool
3:30-5 coach Latin practice
5:30 head home to dinner & next day planning
Who’s in your family?
My husband, Tom (married 18 years). Two stepsons that are 40 and 38, and there are two grandchildren now – 8 (boy) and 6 (girl). My sister, Karen, eight years older, and brother, Jeff, five years older. My
mom passed away 25 years ago, and my dad passed away in 2011. Then there’s Willis, our 15-year-old Australian shepherd, golden mix, and Missy, our 2 ½-year-old Brittany spaniel.
Last book you read?
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
What’s your food splurge?
Favorite birthday dessert?
Mom’s chocolate cake with coffee icing
Mountains or beach?
I’ve grown to love the mountains, Our goal is to have a shack in the mountains someday.
What’s something your swimmers may not know about you?
I play the trumpet. I played in the Carolina pep band once. I like to play happy birthday to my friends over the phone – no words, just the song.
Coach Waldron and the Hawks compete this Thursday at home, hosting Country Day, Providence Day and Davidson Day at 4:25. They'll have just one more meet on February 2nd, before the CISAA conference championship on February 6th at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center uptown.