Obituary: Don Watkinds


Donald Harold Watkinds

May 6, 1951 – July 27, 2017

Donald Harold Watkinds, age 66, of San Diego died of a heart attack on July 27, 2017. Don was doing what he loved best, on deck, coaching young members of the Wave House San Diego Swim Club at the City Heights Swim Center in San Diego.

Don was born in Brawley, CA on May 6, 1951 to Erma and Harold Watkinds, and lived in Calipatria during his youth. He attended Calipatria High School, and subsequently earned an undergraduate degree at California Western University in San Diego.

Don forged an exemplary career as a swimming coach. Although he coached at several locations in northern and southern California over the years, at the time of his death Don was coaching the Wave House San Diego Swim Club and a Wounded Warriors group at the Navy Medical Facility in San Diego. His swimmers achieved much success at the Paralympic Games, USA Swimming national, zone, and local competitions. Several earned college scholarships and some honored his memory by themselves becoming swimming coaches.

Watkinds received numerous awards, including the Ikkos Award from the U.S. Olympic Committee for coaching swimmers who medaled at the Paralympic Games, the Disability Swimming Service Award from USA Swimming, and an Outstanding Service Award from Southern California Swimming. But the most meaningful accolades are from his swimmers and fellow coaches: “Don approached the sport with joy, laughter, and creativity;” “Don was the most integral person in my life apart from my own parents;” “You shaped our lives and helped us become great athletes, teammates, and friends;” “I will remember Don most of all for the love, pride, and advocacy he showed for each of his swimmers;” “Few men were greater in our sport than Don Watkinds, he let his ego take a back seat to what he was willing to do for his athletes.” “If I know him, he probably will be coaching in heaven.”

Don is survived by cousins Lois Brister, Karen Cronin, Lynn Heinbokel, and Bruce Young; close lifelong friends Brad and Linda Bodell, Matthew and Katie Bodell, Nathan Bodell and Annie Bodell, and four grandchildren; as well as the legion of swimmers he coached throughout the years who are his swimming family. He was predeceased in death by his parents Erma Savage Watkinds and Harold K. Watkinds, and a sister Paula Sue Watkinds who died in infancy.

A private graveside service will be held at date to be determined at Riverview Cemetery in Brawley CA. Additional information about services will be posted on the San Diego-Imperial Swimming web site ( as information becomes available. Memorial donations in Don’s name may be sent to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (