Where Are You Now? Tim Swords
Tim Swords grew up in New Martinsville, one of seven siblings, of the late James Dennis and Evelyne Swords. Tim was a 1974 graduate of Magnolia High School where he excelled in football and track. He was recruited by several Division I schools but chose East Carolina University and lettered all four years in football.
Swords credits his older brother Tom, Coach Lou Nocida, Coach Dave Cisar, the late Pat Dye (who was at East Carolina when he played), and strength coach at ECU, Jeff Johnson for his accomplishments.
“I am so blessed to have played for great coaches over my career that taught me not only about football but being a good person. My brother Tom played college football and was my mentor as a youngster. I owe a lot to him for getting me started on the right track”.
“My dad played football for Notre Dame, and I grew up with older brothers who went off to play college ball as well,” Swords said. “I wasn’t that big as a kid, so I started training with weights at a young age. I would say I’ve been training with weights darn near 40 years.”
“I played all the sports until 9th grade, when I talked to my father about not playing basketball. I was not good at it, but he thought it was as good in that it kept me from just sitting on my butt and not doing anything. He asked me what I would do if I decided not to play, and I told him I wanted to train with weights four days a week. My father asked me if I thought this was something that I would stick with (I look back at this and wonder what he would say now)”.
“My sports were then football and track, and I loved to play softball with my brothers at slow pitch tournaments. I enjoyed having these family sporting events together, and we were good as a team. We won all the time; we were all homerun-type hitters, and we had fun with it as well”.
Even though he received multiple division one football scholarships, he never thought he was that good. He thinks this attitude made him work harder all the time in the weight room. After lettering all four years at East Carolina University, he had some NFL and USFL interest, and signed some professional football contracts.
“As a young athlete, I lifted with some of the best powerlifters in the world. It made me strong, but I admit I lost some mobility and could not let this go on if I wanted to play football. So, I started training with the ECU Strength Coach, Jeff Johnson. Jeff was a nationally ranked Olympic lifter, and this is really where my journey started in our sport”.
The East Carolina Alumni moved to League City, Texas (Suburb of Houston) in 1988. Swords moved to Houston, for a job opportunity with the same company (Bayer) in which he retired from. When he arrived, he also worked with some of the Houston Oilers, teaching Olympic lifting–mostly pulls and partial lifts. Then he decided to start working with younger lifters–beginning with his friends’ kids, preparing them for Texas high school football.
Swords is one of Team USA’s certified Olympic weightlifting coaches and is one of the most recognizable names in the profession. He also served as ECU’s strength coach before moving to Texas.
“As I grew up, I continued to learn more about the mechanics of weightlifting and such by training in places like Russia, Ukraine, and other Olympic training centers across the world,” Swords detailed. “I went on to coach at the World Weightlifting Championship seven times, I’ve coached athletes like Sarah Robles at the Olympics, and American [weightlifting] Championship as well.”
Sarah Robles won a bronze medal in weightlifting during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, having trained and been coached under Tim Swords. Robles was also the first US athlete to medal in Olympic weightlifting in 16 years.
After that, about two years later I was introduced to an older man named Otto Zeigler from Baytown, TX. He was a tough guy with a kind heart. Otto loved kids, and I saw that he was making a huge difference by training youth lifters in our area. That was really when I started shifting my energy in this direction. Otto’s club was called “The Weighting Place,” aka Team Houston, which is where our name came from. The door has never been locked. We keep the name in honor of Otto. Tim took over the club because of Otto’s age, to continue the legacy of Otto.
Swords’ “Team Houston” weightlifting program includes at-risk youth, and he has never once turned a kid away. Coach Swords is one of 15 USA weightlifting (USAW) international-level coaches, and as a coach, he still trains older athletes, including the Houston Rockets Strength Coaches and NASA astronauts.
Less than two miles from the doors of Clear Springs High School near his home in Texas you will probably find Olympic weightlifting coach Tim Swords with his garage door open. The converted two-car sized garage is home to dozens of free weights, dumbbells, and exercise equipment you would have to travel to gyms to find. As you walk in, the sight is marvelous. Weights crash on the floor, as sweat flies from determined lifters with each rep. You will likely see a few kids as young as eight years old handling weights with ease.
It houses nearly 20 Olympic lifting bars, 150 bumper plates and several platforms and squat racks. Swords’ garage has trained competitors from all over the world, including the Swedish Olympic team and current U.S. Olympian Sarah Robles.
The League City local legend has a media room decorated with Olympic plaques, as dozens of certificates and trophies line the walls. Swords’ garage is home to war-torn weightlifting mats, which have endured hundreds of kids, teens, and adult athletes through their progress training. Swords has helped high school athletes receive over 92 college football scholarships. He has also trained 14 NFL players.
Through the generosity of community and Olympic donors “Money is not an issue,” said Swords, who estimates he has coached around 65-70 national meets. “We will do what we can to get you to competitions.”
“I’ve had a lot of kids who come through the door who are single-parent kids, raised by grandparents, who go on to play college football. They are like my own children, black, white, hispanic, it doesn’t matter. I have had military kids, and are now in the Marine Corps or Air Force. I’ve worked with gang members who wanted to wear their colors. Couldn’t do that, some you cannot reach at all, some you can. I have had some kids who came from great family situations and whose mom or dad were doctors and lawyers. And then there are guys who would probably be dead if it not for me.” Swords, who moved to Texas in early 1988, never saw this coming. It just happened when he moved to Texas and became a regular at the World’s Gym.
When his friend asked if Swords would coach his high-school aged son and his friend, it was a no-brainer. He had always liked working with children, volunteering Saturday mornings at East Carolina to work with inner-city kids in the weight room.
So, they set up a single platform in Swords’ garage, for him to coach the two boys. Within four months, Swords had 11 kids in his garage. And they just kept showing up after that.
“He’s a father figure,” said former Swords pupil Adrian Briones, who is currently the head strength coach at Delaware State.
“He’s the first man not related to me that truly believed in me. When I needed to eat, he gave me money. When I needed a place to shower, he let me in. That is why I am where I am today. The fact that I met a man, that loved me so much it changed my heart forever. That’s what Tim does to this day.”
“I came from a good home, but my dreams were very big and sometimes my friends and family would be like ‘What are you talking about?’ Briones said. “I remember being there and a boy who was 12 or 13 being really disrespectful to his father. Coach Swords does not put up with that, he got into that kid. He always said, ‘In this gym we do unordinary things. Successful people do unordinary things.’ To this day, I still use that phrase.
Swords aspirations are simply to work with kids and to help them with their self-esteem. If one of them develops to compete at a high level, then that is great. “However, I am not out recruiting lifters from all over the country to stroke my ego. I am a grassroots weightlifting guy.”
His aspirations for his Team Houston are to continue to go to competitions at all levels, to develop athletes to the international level, and to watch young kids evolve into strong men and women with the self-esteem and discipline to be productive members of society.
Coach Swords was selected as the Olympic coach for the 2020 Tokyo games but due to the Covid-19 pandemic they were postponed.
Tim said, “It has been such a blessing to be able to do what I do. I have had a fun ride and it is not over yet. So glad I can help kids develop and teach them about life. I really love to see them succeed and gives me a good feeling inside”.
During a recent conversation with Tim, he was quick to point out much his success can be attributed to his brother Tom who was a late1960’s graduate of Magnolia and a high school All-American football player who furthered his football playing days at Virginia Tech a successful Division 1 program. ” Brother Tom was the biggest reason I started lifting weights. I owe him more than I can ever repay for consistently motivating me to get better.”
From his school days running around New Martinsville to his glory days lifting and coaching world class athletes, one thing has remained constant Tim Swords is still the same kind, dedicated and competitive person we knew growing up at Magnolia High School.