“My dad was still writing coaching sessions when he was in the hospital, really just a few weeks before he died.”
Nicola Hood smiles with a bittersweet pride as – on what would have been her father’s 62nd birthday – she recalls his final weeks.
The Great Britain and Scotland cross country international is marking the date in the way she does every Tuesday night – continuing her father’s legacy by using those notes to coach the same group he did.
“Coaching tonight, in some ways it’s just really appropriate,” she said. “The majority of the kids in the athletics group I’m working with were my dad’s athletes.
“He worked with them for a couple of years actually, really developed their confidence as well as their ability. He put everything into it that he could to get the best out of people.
“After my dad died, my mum and I had a real time looking through the variety of coaching notes he left. My dad knew where everything was, but not necessarily everyone else did.
“So it was a case of looking for notes that were in bookmarks, within books; he really liked his notecards, and trying to consolidate all that together to really form a full picture was a bit of a challenge.
“But also a bit of a laughable moment for us, because it was like, ‘right, okay, what did you mean by this?’ Right, let me try and put these pieces together like a jigsaw.”
She added: “I’ve been coaching the kids for over a year, and some of them had a really successful cross country and track season, so I must be doing something right to help them move in that direction.”
Before taking over as coach at Nithsdale Athletics Club, David Hood – who passed away last year – was as heavily involved in sport as he could be. He ran the first Glasgow Marathon, completed the Three Peaks Challenge and found time to be a fully-qualified rugby coach.
But it was athletics where Nicola’s father decided to put his energy, to help the same kids his daughter would one day coach.
David’s legacy endures – not just in the memories of Nicola and her group: there is another piece of him in every session.
“The whistle I use in my training was actually a Christmas present that I gave to my dad just a few months before he died,” Nicola explains. “I had it engraved with Coach Hood on the side, which is what he was known as at the track.
“He was chuffed at the time when I got him this, so it’s really important to me, and holds quite a lot of sentimental value in having that at the track with me when I’m doing the training sessions. Just keeps me strong at times that are tough.
“I know most people would say this about their dad, but my dad was genuinely my hero, he was my rock star: kind, giving, enthusiastic but honest and realistic as well I think, as a coach.”
‘I’m not hanging up the whistle’
Nicola shows the same temperament as her father in her coaching session, as she cheers on her group, taking some of them to one side for tailored chats and managing to genuinely motivate a bunch of teenagers on a dreary autumn night.
“I honestly think he would be so proud, and just chuffed,” she adds. “Not just that I’m continuing to pursue my coaching career, but that I’m there to support the kids.
“He really was committed to giving everything he could to them and the kids have become really important to me over time as well. I just want to be there to feed back to them.
“I think he would just be really happy that I’m continuing to challenge myself and not just hanging up the whistle.”