By Mitch Holt, Copy Editor
When Rachel Hood graduated from college in 1990, she had no idea she would run cross country for ACU 16 years and three children later.
The 38-year-old mother, full-time student and ACU runner is taking 12 hours of classes, running about 70 miles per week and raising three children with husband Don Hood, head track coach of the university.
“People think I’m crazy,” says a tan Rachel Hood with a slight southern drawl. “They say ‘you’re taking 12 hours just so you can run?’ But I like a challenge; a hard workout is good for me.”
A full load
And a challenge is what she got. Rachel dug into the workouts and a stacked class schedule early in the season.
“It was all right there in front of me,” she says talking over the playful yells of her youngest daughter. “I had been working out anyway, about 55 miles per week. I just had to increase the mileage and throw in a few special workouts to get my body accustomed to a different level of running.”
Her summer 55-mile weeks turned into her fall 70-mile weeks, then injury fell upon her early in the season.
Rachel runs five to seven miles at 6 a.m. three days a week and six to 10 miles every afternoon; she runs at least one six- to 10-mile run each weekend.
“When school started, the mileage bumped up, probably too fast for my body,” Rachel says, keeping an eye on 3-year-old Annabeth, who is picking purple flowers nearby. “I really didn’t know it because it was still in the first three weeks. I was still working out and I didn’t know anything was wrong until the first race.”
Derek Hood, Rachel’s brother-in-law and head cross country coach, said her injury started as hip problems and set off a chain reaction of several other injuries. A nerve injury combined with hip misalignment made her more prone to inflammations and other injuries, he said.
“She was in good shape, had great endurance,” Derek Hood said. “But when we started to crank up the intensity, particularly hills and mileage, she caught an injury.”
Rachel hoped to be ready for the Oct. 14 Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark., but Derek said he didn’t want to take any risks of her not being able to compete Oct. 21 in the Lone Star Conference Championship in Stephenville.
“She’s been kind of frustrated because of these nagging injuries,” Derek said. “We’re just impressed she’s been out there training. We’re hoping she’ll be able to contribute at the conference championships.”
Rachel Hood graduated from Abilene High School in 1986 where she ran track and cross country. She met Don Hood shortly after graduation, right before her freshman year at ACU. They were married in 1988 after she ran at the university for two years. She cut her ACU career short to move with him to Temple for his first coaching job at Temple High School.
During the couple’s time in Temple, Rachel attended University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. The university did not have women’s cross country or track, but the athletic director at the time was interested in the possibility of starting one.
“He said if I got some girls together we could get cross country and I’d be able to run,” she said. “I was there and I started working out, but nothing ever happened. I never got to compete with a team after ACU, but I just kept running.”
Graduating in 1990 from Mary Hardin-Baylor with a degree in elementary education, Rachel took her first teaching job. Don’s coaching career brought the Hoods to various cities across Texas, eventually to Lubbock, then to Abilene.
Although she graduated from Mary Hardin-Baylor with an elementary education degree, Rachel is taking 12 hours of undergraduate classes at ACU because she is required to be a full-time undergraduate student to compete in collegiate athletics.
According to 2006-2007 NCAA Division II Regulations, an athlete is not eligible for competition after 10 semesters of enrollment in a “collegiate institution.” This season is Rachel’s 10th and final semester of NCAA eligibility. She left ACU with four used semesters of eligibility and she graduated from Mary Hardin-Baylor in five semesters, leaving only this season to compete.
Mom knows best
As for education, Rachel stuck with her passion for teaching and her plans for the future while deciding on her class schedule.
“I’m taking children’s ministry classes,” she says. “It’s still in line with something I’m going to do, whether I use it at church or at home.”
Victoria Hood was born to the couple in February 1996. Rachel finished the school year and hasn’t taught since. Two years later, Rachel had second daughter Julianne, and third daughter, Annabeth, was born in 2002.
As Rachel talks about her daughters, Victoria sits close by reading a book, glancing at her mom every few minutes. Annabeth, wearing a pink shirt with a butterfly on the front, runs to Rachel and half-screams, “I saw a spider.”
“I bet that spider ran away,” Rachel says.
“It was just a little one,” Annabeth replies, running back to the bush where she found it.
“We all run,” Rachel says about her family. “We started running the girls when they were 4-and-a-half-years-old; now they can get out and run three miles, no problem.”
She said her two oldest daughters, 10-year-old Victoria and 8-year-old Julianne, placed seventh and eighth in a seventh grade and younger race a few weeks ago.
“That’s one thing we do together,” Rachel says. “But it’s gotten harder for me to work it in with the kids.”
In fall 2005, Don Hood, who had recently become ACU’s track coach, encouraged his wife to consider running on the cross country team for his brother, Derek. Rachel, who was still in Lubbock packing for the move, told him she wasn’t interested and didn’t seriously consider it.
“He gave me a hard time, half kidding and half serious. He kept talking it up, and finally in November he said ‘you really need to consider this.’ I think he felt guilty because I never got to finish running here because I married him,” she says with a smirk.
Don, in his second year as ACU’s head track coach, said he encouraged Rachel to pursue the opportunity because “she has given up so much for me and our family.”
“I know how tough she is and that she has stayed in pretty remarkable shape over the last 15 years,” Don said. “I think she has the talent to run at our conference level, and I know she is tough enough to do it. After watching her give birth to our daughters and pretty much raise them by herself, I know she can handle anything.”
Finally, Rachel conceded and asked Derek to give her a few workouts to see if she could handle them and see how her body would hold up. So she started training with some speed work, continued through the spring, and by the end of May, Rachel said, “I think I can do this.”
Don encouraged her to run not because of her “unfinished business,” he said, but because the brothers both thought she could contribute to the team. The coaches knew they would have between five and seven quality runners this season but wanted more depth.
Rachel would be in the top five runners of most teams in the conference and most in the region, Don said. The coaches believe she will be an asset and contribute points to the team total at the LSC championships.
Hayley Garner, sophomore exercise science major from Keller and one of Rachel’s teammates, said she thinks Rachel’s ability to run collegiate cross country and take care of her family is amazing.
“She’s a very athletic mom,” Garner said. “She has a couple of injuries that she’s working through. We have two-a-days and she is always there for both of them. I couldn’t imagine having three kids and getting out there and running.”
Support on the home front
Handling a packed schedule has not affected Rachel’s parenting abilities, Don said. Each morning, she comes in from her morning runs, cooks breakfast for the kids, picks them up from school and cooks dinner after evening practice. Don, who works between 10 and 12 hours a day preparing for the track team’s January start, said the kids come to the track each day for practice and wait for Rachel.
“I probably don’t do enough,” Don said. “Rachel is working very hard to not be a burden to me or the kids. Her days start at 5:30 a.m., and she might get to bed at 11:30 p.m. or midnight most nights. She still takes time to read bedtime stories and put Band-Aids on little fingers and toes. It’s pretty awesome to watch her do all that she does and maintain her sanity.”
No scholarships, no breaks, no special treatment-Rachel Hood has more on her plate than most women her age, and she is grateful for it.
“This is just a good way for me to get in hard workouts,” she said. “I can work out on my own, but it’s a lot easier to go up a hill eight times if there’s a group doing it with me.”