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PC Profile: Atiba Wade OPC ’95

Atiba Wade OPC ’95 has an expression he uses often: When preparation meets opportunity, success is the result. Wade is always prepared, opportunity often finds him, and success has been the upshot of his varied career.

Atiba Wade_OPC95

As a student athlete at Penn Charter, Atiba Wade was always in the pool. He played water polo and swam the 100-meter breaststroke, 200-yard individual medley, 100-yard freestyle—“whatever Reece Whitley swam,” he said, laughing about the PC phenom who would follow him, graduating in 2018. “All the records that Reece has, I once had.”

Wade also swam for the storied PDR Swimming, founded and coached by American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Ellis. PDR, which stands for both Philadelphia Department of Recreation and the more inspirational Pride, Determination, Resilience, was the first Black swim team in the country.

When the 2007 film Pride, based on the story of Jim Ellis, was in production, Wade got an email from his friend, a sports agent, suggesting that Wade be a swim double for a lead actor in the movie. As a former competitive swimmer, Wade was able to work with the director to add authenticity to his scenes. After all, Wade said, “You couldn’t pick a better double than someone who was actually a part of the PDR team.”

This experience would kick off a new career for Wade. Preparation meets opportunity.

Wade, an art major at the University of Georgia, where he was an NCAA All-American swimmer, had moved in 2004 to the vibrant art scene of Santa Fe, N.M., where he was a swim coach and a professional swimmer. Through the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop, he assembled a photographic portfolio and submitted it to talent agencies. “And then,” Wade said, “I got pointed in the direction of doing some background work for movies because there's a movie scene in New Mexico.” His first role was as a prison guard in the crime thriller Shot Caller.

After that, Wade focused on coaching swimmers and training other athletes at his fitness company, H2Go, when a stunt coordinator reached out. Next thing Wade knew, he was in Alaska, followed by New York, working as a stunt double for Giancarlo Esposito for the Netflix series Kaleidoscope.

While filming Kaleidoscope in 2021, preparation met opportunity once again when underwater cinematographer Peter Zuccarini, whose credits include Avatar: Way of the Water, asked Wade if he wanted to work on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Once Wade realized that Zuccarini was “the Steven Speilberg of underwater videography,” he was wowed by the offer but also well prepared for the challenge. “It's like you're dribbling on the basketball court, and Phil Jackson comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, kid, you’ve got talent. You want to come work with me?’”

Wade traveled from New York to Atlanta and ended up on the set of the Ryan Coogler-directed Marvel movie for two months. His swimming and gymnastics background had prepared him for his role as a sailor in the Wakanda navy. Led by stunt coordinator Andy Gill, he worked with dancers and gymnasts, Cirque du Soleil performers and katana specialists.

“You have people whose sole job is to be able to ride a horse, fire arrows and fall off the horse,” he said of the stunt team. “Or people whose thing is being lit on fire. That's their specialty. To be able to use my skill set in that environment and to be able to add value to the project was phenomenal.”

A world away from Hollywood, Wade also uses his skill set working with Wounded Warriors— injured soldiers and veterans in the Army Recovery Care Program. Serving the program since 2015, he eventually became head swim coach of Team Army, a role he holds currently, while working with veterans of the Air Force and Navy as well.

“It really shaped or redefined my definition of the word can’t,” Wade said. “And being able to journey through that with these soldiers and veterans really helped create a new perspective for me.”

In 2022, he coached Team USA at the Invictus Games, in The Hague. In the games, founded in 2013 by the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, injured veterans compete in adaptive sports, embodying resilience. Invictus means “unconquered.”

If Wade has made a difference in the lives of injured soldiers, they have made a difference in his, too. He has become a better person and a better coach through this work, he says. “Being able to creatively use my skill set in that environment really just took my coaching to another level.”

– Rebecca Luzi