Family, friends remember Lauder student who died last week

Zachary Woods swam as an undergraduate at Middlebury College and worked in China for more than five years

· May 12, 2014, 4:13 pm   ·  Updated May 14, 2014, 3:11 pm

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Adventurous is one way to describe Zachary Woods. He and his brother Matthew “always like[d] to do the crazy things,” recalled his younger sister Callie Woods.

“He would find the largest cliff to jump off of,” Callie said, and then he would make her jump, too. Then, she recalled, he would tell his friends that his sister did it, so they should also do it.

He was “one of the best big brothers anybody could ask for,” Callie said.

But on Tuesday, May 6, Woods, a recently enrolled student in Wharton’s Lauder Program, was the victim of a two-car crash at 30th and Walnut streets. He died later that night at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, at around 10:00 p.m. Woods is the sixth Penn student to die since the end of last semester.

Tuesday morning, about 12 hours earlier on Woods’ second day of classes, a Toyota Camry driving westbound on Walnut Street hit a Mercury Montego driving southbound on 30th Street at a high speed while Woods was walking on the sidewalk. After the westbound Toyota hit the Mercury, the Mercury continued moving over the curb and hit Woods, a pedestrian on the sidewalk, throwing him nearly 38 feet to the roadway below, the Philadelphia Police Department  said in a statement.

“He’s going to be incredibly missed,” Callie said. To remember him, “he’s had friends flying from all over the world to our home,” she added.

Woods’  enrollment in Wharton’s Lauder Program, which combines business and international studies, followed over five years of work in China, according to his LinkedIn profile. Woods worked as a project manager at the Western Water Group until August 2010. Most recently, he was assistant general manager at the New York City Regional Center in Shanghai, where he raised over $1 billion for real estate development projects in New York City.

Callie explained that he first started studying Chinese because he “figured it would be best for a business job.” His passion for the country naturally followed.

“He always wanted to go into business,” Callie said. For him, business “was full of opportunities,” she explained. “It opened up his world to a whole network of people.”

Peter Solomon, who was Woods’ swimming coach at Middlebury College until his graduation in 2009, said that Woods always made him and his teammates laugh.

“He had a mischievous smile a lot of the time like he knew something that the rest of us didn’t,” Solomon said in an email.

Solomon remembers how in Woods’ senior year of college, he re-established the Middlebury College Varsity Record by finishing third out of eight swimmers in a 200-yard backstroke competition.

That year, Solomon explained, was “the year of the ‘Tech Suit’” — a full body wetsuit used in competitive swimming. While most other swimmers were wearing these full body suits, Solomon remembered how Woods looked “almost naked compared to the other swimmers, wearing a traditional Speedo brief bathing suit.”

But when he came in third in the final race of his swimming career, Solomon said Woods proved the point that “‘it wasn’t about the suit.’”

Kevin O’Rourke, Woods’ teammate on the Middlebury swim team, also took part in Woods’ many adventures. “Everyone who knew him was along for the ride,” he said.

O’Rourke recalls how he and Woods once took a roadtrip to purchase fireworks, only to discover that the store was closed. But, as O’Rourke said, “the journey for Zach was more important than the destination.”

Friends would call vacations with Zach, Callie, Matthew and their family “the Woods family extreme vacation,” Callie recalled, because of their penchant for adventure.

Her friends sometimes ask Callie from where she gets her adventurous spirit — the one that leads her to go skydiving and base jumping. “A lot of it comes from my older brother,” she said.

Woods’ adventures did not always entail cliffs and danger, though — O’Rourke remembers one night when they watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and built a fort of cushions. “He didn’t tell me it was the extended edition, though,” O’Rourke said. “We started watching, and 12 hours later we were done.”

“If you were with Zach, you were on this life adventure,” he added.

“He’s going to be missed, and he already is,” Callie said. “I’m grateful for the number of people who got to know him.”

Anyone wishing to contribute comments should contact City News Editor Harry Cooperman at cooperman@thedp.com

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