Dr. Brian Goldman was always comfortable in the water.
Long after his collegiate swimming days, he continued doing laps as a member of the Raleigh Area Masters, a swim club for those who can’t bear to give up regular dips in the pool.
Though he had a busy schedule as a doctor of internal medicine, Goldman was keen to promote swimming whenever he could. The father-of-two volunteered in 2009 to found and coach the Mudpuppies, a summer swim team based out of the Meredith Townes pool. He made sure that swimmers of all abilities were welcome.
Goldman was often depicted as a “pied piper” of swimming, and though he had captained Duke’s swim team his senior year, he never put pressure on the children drawn to him. His nurturing approach helped his team of mostly novice swimmers move up seven divisions in six years, winning five consecutive division championships. He loved teaching essentials like using the streamline position, tucking into a flip turn, and regulating one’s breath.
“Brian was an incredibly competitive person, but that was never communicated to the kids. He would tell the kids, ‘You don’t ever worry about the scores. You just do your best,’” said his wife, Michele Goldman. “He said every kid contributes to this team.”
Goldman, 50, succumbed to cancer last month. He had been too young for routine colonoscopies, and had no family history of colon cancer, so the diagnosis came as a shock. Before developing symptoms, he’d recently completed a service trip to Guatemala and was as fit as ever.
Goldman refused to let his illness compromise his commitment to his team. For most of the 20 months he battled cancer, he could be found poolside, often wearing his chemo port, even though he was sometimes too weak to have driven himself or to stand while he coached. Still, he would rather be there than anyplace else.
Raleigh was home
Goldman was born in St. Louis, one of Jill and Alan Goldman’s three children. The family moved to Raleigh when he was 7. He met his wife at a wedding when they were both living in Seattle.
When a job opportunity arose in the Triangle in 2001, Goldman was happy to raise his two sons back home. His style in the doctor’s office mirrored his approach to coaching in that he cared about the whole patient, and took time to know and understand people.
When he wasn’t working or coaching, he enjoyed nature, hiking the mountains at Brevard each summer with his family, and avoiding technology whenever life would allow.
Goldman dabbled in coaching and teaching swimming throughout his adulthood, and when the opportunity arose to create a team from scratch, he couldn’t pass it up.
“He lived and breathed Mudpuppies from April through August,” said Carol Hook, a longtime Mudpuppy parent.
During the season he would rush from the office to the pool, and often stay up late to finish work afterward.
At the end of the 2014 season, it was clear that Goldman’s cancer would be fatal. He was no longer working and did not want to stop coaching, so he asked Mudpuppy parents if they would like to start practicing. The group met indoors last winter, and Goldman took developing their strokes just as seriously as he did their children’s.
“I felt I was getting so much out of it, but it was so clear to me that this was how he wanted to spend his limited number of days,” Hook said. “He believed you could do it, therefore you believed you could do it.”
His children felt the same way. Ben Goldman, 14, is the first to admit he is not the most gifted swimmer, but he loved being on his dad’s team.
“He was more of the cheer captain,” Ben Goldman said. “He was much more supportive than critical. He was a good guy.”
When he founded the team, Goldman started the tradition of having the children high-five their opponents at the end of a meet – uncommon in swimming. When it was clear he had just days left, Goldman convinced the staff at Rex Hospital’s palliative care unit that he could handle a few visitors – he wanted a last high-five with the Mudpuppies. With just a few hours notice, more than 100 team members traveled to Rex, clogging the elevators, filling the lobby, snaking their way down the halls to say good-bye.
He told one child she’d do great at her upcoming Bat Mitzvah and advised another to listen to his mother. He remembered how old they were, what strokes they swam. But perhaps most importantly, he gave them the opportunity to see him at his weakest with grace and dignity.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Steve Ross, longtime Mudpuppy parent and president of the team’s board. “He turned this whole sad story on its head and sent everybody away with some words of encouragement.”
The 2015 Mudpuppy season started just a few weeks ago, and the team will need time to adjust to Goldman’s absence. They will be certain to high-five their opponents at the end of every meet.
“He devoured life. He just devoured it. He couldn’t get enough, and he wanted them to feel that too. And I think they did,” Michele Goldman said.
Born: Sept. 22, 1964, in St. Louis, Mo.
Family: Marries Michele Goldman in 1996; two sons, Jared and Ben.
Education: Sanderson High School, 1982; Zoology degree, Duke University, 1986;Wake Forest School of Medicine, 1990.
Career: Starts internal medicine career in the Pacific Northwest and returns to Raleigh in 2001. In addition to his work as a physician, he creates the Mudpuppies swim team at Meredith Townes pool in 2009.
Dies: May 10, in Raleigh.
Those interested in sharing memories of Brian Goldman may visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/coachbrian.