By Bill Burt
---- — Technically speaking, former Miss USA winner Susie Castillo never had a doting father, as she was brought up by her mother.
But then as a freshman at Methuen High along came a guy named Bill Blood, her indoor track coach, who filled that role and, she claimed, changed her life forever.
Blood, a long-time teacher and coach in Methuen, died from a heart attack on Tuesday. Castillo felt like she had lost a father.
“I was very saddened to hear about Coach Blood’s passing,” said the 33-year-old Castillo, shortly after returning from an audition with the Days of Our Lives soap opera in Los Angeles. “He wasn’t just a great coach. He was a great person. He genuinely cared for kids. He taught us so much more than winning at track. He taught us how to win at life.”
Castillo recalled Blood handing out laminated pamphlets, that he created and wrote himself, with references to loyalty, perseverance and never giving up.
“I was a pretty good athlete,” said Castillo, who ran middle distance events like the 600-yard and 1,000-yard runs. “But he always pushed me to be better. He would watch how Olympic track coaches trained and then do the same to us. It was amazing.”
Castillo recalled a particular story with Blood during her senior year at Methuen High. She had opted not to run winter track, instead getting a head start on pursuing her career as a model and actress.
The Coach Blood charm, though, kicked in.
“I knew what I wanted to do after high school and I just wanted the freedom to drive to Boston for auditions or whatever I wanted to do,” recalled Castillo. “I wasn’t there at the first practice and he called me and asked if I’d come to the next practice to talk to him. He told me, that I was a talented athlete (Castillo was on the four-girl sprint medley team that still holds the school record).
“I remember him saying, ‘You know Suz, you’re good at what you do. You’re a leader. And this is your last opportunity ... Why not take it. They are memories you will have forever. You’ve been with this team since freshman year. Don’t let it pass.’ I couldn’t say no. I was back on the team.”
Castillo said she really didn’t understand his influence on her life until after high school, particularly when she became a national force in the Miss Teen USA and later Miss USA pageants, which she won.
“I remember distinctly him talking about the importance of practice,” she recalled. “One day, a lot of girls were slacking, and he came right at us, saying practice is absolutely the one place you don’t slack. He said what you do in practice is what you will do in the meet. It just always stayed with me.
“When I was competing for Miss USA, I studied and practiced my butt off,” Castillo said.
“It was those lessons, getting ready for track meets, that stuck with me. I have always used those same principles in all areas of my life. He really taught us how to win at everything.”
Castillo, who has been married for six years, said she had a few conversations with Blood several years ago, letting him know how important he was in her life.
In fact, she had a great meeting with Blood while she was signing copies of her book, “Confidence is Queen: The Four Keys to Ultimate Beauty and Positive Thinking,” at the old Borders bookstore at the Loop in Methuen in the fall of 2008.
“He showed up and brought me flowers,” recalled Castillo. “The thing was he was one of four people I dedicated the book to (her mom, her grandmother, asst. track coach and Methuen teacher Dean Schneider and Blood). I signed a book for him and wrote a note to him. It was a great time. That was the last time I saw him.”
Yesterday, Castillo wrote a post on her Facebook page on what “Coach Blood” meant to her, and the responses were numerous.
“He was an important part of my life and I will be forever grateful,” said Castillo. “He had wisdom about life. It wasn’t just coaching. I was very lucky. A lot of people were very lucky.”