By Pam Watts, NIRSA Executive Director
It is with great sadness that I share with NIRSA members the news that Zach Wood, a 26-year-old PhD candidate in the School of Kinesiology at Louisiana State University, died on the evening of November 14 after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle. Zach had been a member of NIRSA for five years and had recently been engaged with NIRSA’s Research and Assessment Committee to further develop his PhD research project.
Zach received an M.S. in kinesiology with a specialization in pedagogy and psychological sciences from LSU as well as a B.A. in political science from Xavier University (Ohio). Before starting his Ph.D., he worked professionally in campus recreation at Oregon State University and at LSU. Troy Snow, Manager of Operations & Events Management at OSU says, “Zach was wise beyond his years. Always about development of students and how to help them improve. He had a really calming influence which was likely why students, colleagues, and campus community members gravitated towards him. It’s what makes this a really difficult loss.”
By all accounts, Zach was deeply invested in his professional work and his academic pursuits; he had presented at a past NIRSA Annual Conference & Recreational Sports Exposition and he received the American Kinesiology Association’s Graduate Student Writing Award. His primary research interests involved critical analyses of physical activity and sport, particularly issues of sex inequality and gender role identity in coed or mixed-sex sport settings. Zach was also an avid basketball player and a positive force for recreation departments in three different NIRSA regions.
The tragic death of Zach Wood is a profound loss to his family, friends, mentors, and colleagues. Past NIRSA President and LSU’s Director of Recreation Laurie Braden remembers him as “an amazing person and professional. The magnitude of his impact in 26 years was beyond his actual years with us. Zach’s ability to make others feel as if they were the only person that mattered each time he interacted with them was something special. He will be deeply missed and fondly remembered.”
Dave Fehring, Associate Director of Programs at Oregon State University echoes Laurie’s words: “Zach was a charismatic, passionate, heart-felt young man who was mature beyond his age. His level of intelligence combined with his wit was admired by many.” Zach loved cheering for his San Francisco Giants, Xavier Musketeers, and Michigan Wolverines and Dave recalls how “at Oregon State University (2009-2011), Zach left a large (literally) footprint on the program. He had a genuine passion for student development and believed strongly in health and wellness. ‘Big,’ as he was so fondly known, was always willing to give a big bear hug or a two handed-hand shake to any student or colleague in need. He will truly be missed, but his memory and legacy will live on.”
The Kinesiology Department at LSU and Wood’s family have set up a service to celebrate Zach Wood’s life in the Cotillion Room of the LSU Student Union from 5:00pm – 7:00pm local time on Friday, November 20. It will be followed by a candlelight ceremony at the Memorial Tower.
Information about memorial tribute funds established in Zach’s honor will be updated here as details become available.