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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nashua tennis tournament keeps memory of John F. Cody III fresh

Dean Shalhoup

Nashua resident Scott McDougald, an avid tennis player, coach and instructor, was finishing up a lesson at the Sargent Avenue courts some years ago when a young man rode by on his bicycle and called out to him.

“He said, ‘Hey, you want to hit some?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to,’ ” McDougald said this week, recalling the happenstance meeting that seeded a close, lifelong friendship on and off the tennis court. ...

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Nashua resident Scott McDougald, an avid tennis player, coach and instructor, was finishing up a lesson at the Sargent Avenue courts some years ago when a young man rode by on his bicycle and called out to him.

“He said, ‘Hey, you want to hit some?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to,’ ” McDougald said this week, recalling the happenstance meeting that seeded a close, lifelong friendship on and off the tennis court.

Nobody remembers whether McDougald or his challenger, a fellow Nashuan named John F. Cody III, even kept score, never mind who won. It didn’t matter.

What does matter is how that friendship developed, and how it grew yet stronger as Cody, a husband, father of children ages 4 and 6 and only in his late 30s, suddenly found himself fighting for his life after being diagnosed with cancer.

The enemy won that long battle, claiming Cody on Oct. 16, 1999, three months before what would have been his 40th birthday.

Today, McDougald remembers sharing with Cody sometime in those final months his plan to help Cody and his family with mounting medical bills and the long list of challenges, monetarily and otherwise, that inevitably compound the struggle for families in the Codys’ situation.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to raise funds for your kids with a tennis tournament,’ ” McDougald said.

Surely Cody appreciated the gesture, but his friend recalled, not so much the posters announcing the tourney.

“John was such a private, humble guy, I think he got a little irritated when I put up a giant banner with his picture on it and people were wearing T-shirts with his picture,” McDougald said.

“So a couple years later, he sent me a hurricane.”

McDougald laughs when recalling those five straight days of tropical, windswept rains in the tournament’s early years, narrowing them down to the remnants of either Hurricane Isabel in 2003 or Ivan in 2004.

“Pouring rain for days …
we’d never had such terrible weather,” McDougald said. “It delayed (the tournament) forever.

“I figured it was John paying me back for putting up giant posters and making T-shirts with his picture on them.”

This year’s tourney, which runs Sept. 5-7 and 12-14 at the Sargent Avenue courts, features a wide variety of events, including wheelchair tennis and a “relative-child tournament,” designed with the family unit in mind, McDougald said.

“It encourages parents and other relatives to do something together with their children instead of doing something separately,” he said. “It’s become real popular since we added it.”

Fifteen years after the tournament debuted, McDougald has held true to its original mission: helping as many people, especially children, as possible.

Scores of causes and agencies have benefited from tourney proceeds over the years. Until last week, the chief benefactors included the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, the Child Advocacy Center and various kids tennis programs statewide. But when McDougald got word of the tragic accident in California that killed Nashuan Patrick Terrin, he immediately added the young man’s family to that list.

Terrin’s death – he was struck by a train after celebrating his sister’s birthday in San Diego – hit McDougald and tourney participants extra hard.

“Patrick played in the tournament for several years; his mom still plays in it,” McDougald said. “We all knew him. We’re planning to do a memorial of some sort for him.”

A nucleus of corporate and individual sponsors that have supported the tournament from the start have been joined by more and more over the years, and, of course, there’s always room for more.

“Each year, more people are taking interest,” McDougald said. “We’re getting more corporate sponsors, which is just great.”

Likewise, as the tourney grows, McDougald’s labor of love demands more and more of his time and energy – which, he said, is restored every time he thinks of the brave battle his friend waged two decades ago.

While it was the cancer that claimed Cody, it wasn’t the only ailment he faced. A robust, good-size man who stood 6-foot-2 and weighed a healthy 230 pounds, Cody suddenly found himself struggling to lift his then 2-year-old son off the floor.

“He knew something was wrong when he couldn’t even pick him up,” McDougald said.

Sure enough, tests revealed an enlarged heart. But Cody, who was studying law at the time, remained optimistic and was able to get on a transplant list.

“Then he was diagnosed with the cancer,” McDougald recalled.

Treatment options were few, if any; although Cody’s age worked in his favor, the condition of his heart did not.

“His heart couldn’t withstand treatment for the cancer,” McDougald said, pausing at the memory.

Cody did one of the few things he could do at that point: Set a reasonable goal and muster the strength to reach it.

“He told me his goal was to see Maddie go to first grade,” McDougald said of Cody’s daughter, Madeline, who, along with her younger brother, Jack, were the first benefactors of the tournament in their dad’s name.

“I remember sitting with him watching her get her kindergarten diploma,” McDougald said.

That was spring 1999. That fall, John and Alison Cody, no doubt teeming with emotion, saw their daughter off to the big, new world of first grade.

The cancer took Cody several weeks later. Still, he’d gotten in the last word, having summoned an inner strength he quite possibly derived from his insistence he be there for his daughter’s big day.

“He used that as his focus to keep going,” McDougald said. “He reached his goal.”

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).