14 Oldpark Terrace, Belfast BT14 6NN

Jimmy Nolan as Remembered by Conal McCambridge

jimwithkidsThese are the words that North Belfast Harriers’ junior athlete Conal McCambridge used when he spoke about Coach Jimmy Nolan at his memorial service on 7 January 2014.

Jimmy Nolan as Remembered by Conal McCambridge

When I realised that I would have this opportunity to speak about Jimmy I immediately tried to think what can I say, not because there isn’t much to say, but rather because there is so much that could be said and so many memories it’s difficult to know which ones to pick out.

I have been so lucky to know Jimmy, to have him as my coach and better still to be his friend.

As a coach and motivator Jimmy was unique. When I started with the club there were at most 15 of us at training sessions and on a few nights there was only 3 of us, Maeve, Emma Doherty and myself. Jimmy as our only coach. Through hard work and inspiring others Jimmy built the junior section and today we have at least 5 coaches at each training night and 100 members in the junior section. As if that wasn’t enough he also found time to coach a group of girls to compete in marathons. During all this time Jimmy trained and competed in races. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he ran before he took us to Mary Peters Track and then waited for us to arrive watching Eggheads on TV. As far as I could see he knew all the answers.

I remember Jimmy teasing us on a few occasions that he was going to give up coaching and that when he stopped that people would be saying “do you remember what’s his face, what’s his name again?” This will definitely not be the case. I will never forget him and I know I am not alone.

Anyone who has been on the North Belfast Harriers Facebook page in the last week has seen the great love and respect that the members of the club have for Jimmy. There have been so many photos and comments posted about him.

Jimmy is the reason that I am a runner. When I first started to run my sisters were running with the club and they always talked about Jimmy and the fun that they had at running. I couldn’t wait to join. In fact I tortured my mum and dad to get Jimmy to allow me to go running with the club and I started at the age of 10.

Jimmy was totally dedicated to us with all those nights driving through heavy traffic to Mary Peters track before standing in the freezing cold, rain and wind encouraging us from the side of the track. He did threaten to get a speaker and shout from the heat of the car but he never abandoned us. I even remember that he took us running up the Cavehill one Boxing Day when the ground was frozen solid and it was more like going ice skating. The thing about Jimmy was once he made arrangements with us he never let us down.

I remember many training sessions up the Cavehill and when running up the hills Jimmy would run up alongside us and shout “you can’t let the old man beat you”. He was always up for a bit of fun and I remember that we used to hide on him behind trees. I also remember that he didn’t always seem to know where he was going but it added to the adventure as we ran through the trees and nettles. Of course Jimmy never admitted to being a little off course.

To go running with Jimmy was just amazing fun. No matter what we were doing Jimmy turned it into a fun event. He was forever cracking jokes and keeping us all going.

I remember my sister Maeve coming home laughing and telling me that Emma and her were running last and second last in a race and that Jimmy’s words of encouragement were “hurry up and get a move on I want a McDonald’s”. This was after they had already been in McDonalds for breakfast as they had been too early for the race in the first case.

When I think of Christmas I always think of Jimmy. Every time Jimmy saw a house lit up for Christmas he would shout Oooooooooh and he expected us to shout back Aaaaaaah, yet he always told us that he didn’t like Christmas and that he was the kid that Santa forgot. When we were wearing Santa hats at the track he always turned up with his black Bah Humbug hat but we caught him out one Christmas Day when Rachel Harvey called by his house with a gift to find that he was the only one in the house wearing a Santa hat. It didn’t take long for all the juniors to find out about that.

Even when Jimmy took sick at the start of last year he remained my coach. Despite his absence from the club, I always kept him updated and made sure he didn’t miss out on anything as after every training session and after every race I would text him and fill him in with all the latest news. Jimmy always listened to me talk about my performances and gave me guidance.

A number of people have commented to me about Jimmy’s sense of humour and it is something that we all remember too because he always made us laugh. I remember him telling us about a man going to a fancy dress party with a girl on his back and being asked what he had come to the party as. He replied that he had come as a turtle as this is Michelle on my back.

He told us he was driving down the road and there was a fat person in the middle of the road shouting “drive round me” and that he wound the window down and shouted back “I don’t have enough petrol!”

There is one question that Jimmy has left hanging leaving all of the kids wondering about the answer to the question, Who was Jimmy’s favourite? At the end of training sessions Jimmy would call different people back to him and tell them “don’t tell anyone else but you really are my favourite”. I imagine you have all heard this phrase but that’s because some guy stole it and has been using it on some dance show on TV.

The last thing I need to do before I finish is to let you all in on one of Jimmy’s secrets and to tell you a truth of my own. As you all know Jimmy liked his practical jokes and back when I was starting in the club he decided not to enlighten some of the members when they mistakenly made a connection that suggested that he was our grandfather. So for quite a few years now we have been playing along with the story that Jimmy was our grandfather and that is Jimmy’s secret.

As for my truth, well my truth is that Jimmy is very, very special to me and my brothers and sisters, in fact to all of my family, and to us he is our adopted grandfather and we are so pleased and happy that he is our friend. He has changed our lives forever, he has given us so much and we love him.

Thank you Jimmy