Athletes as well as drug addicts have been touched by Dan Campbell’s generosity and guidance and they know his humanity was forged in a long battle with his own demons.

University of Maine at Farmington cross country coach Dan Campbell checks the course during the North Atlantic Conference cross country championships in Farmington in 2017. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Many of those same people, including family and friends, are rallying around the popular, longtime track coach, who begins staving off stage-four cancer next week.

“It is all through my tongue, my lymph nodes and my neck,” Campbell, 69, said. “In the back of my tongue, the tumor is there. It is also in the lining of my lungs, which is not what they call local or regionalized. It is separate of that. It means it has metastasized somewhere, somehow.

“I can’t eat any type of solid food. It is really tough swallowing. I didn’t realize that’s what it does.”

Campbell, who is also a substance abuse counselor, learned Wednesday his cancer is incurable, but he is taking his fight to Boston, where he will be treated at Tufts Medical Center. A gofundme.com page has been started for the family.

“(The cancer) is metastasizing rapidly,” he said. “(Treatment) is going to be extremely hardcore chemotherapy. Three agents (of chemo) every three weeks and I will spend my time at the hospital three days or four days to do it. It is a long process.

“They are going to try to stop it from spreading … and catch it, but there is no cure.”

For Campbell and his wife Shari, the future is now about quality time and making every moment count.

“Maybe, I will have some good energy and we can do things,” he said. “We will take this as long as we can take it. I am still going to coach at Thomas College as long as I can — if the energy lets me. But I have been told the energy is not going to be too good for a while.”

Along with being the head coach of the Thomas cross country teams and an assist for the track and field teams, Campbell also is the head track coach at Saint Dominic Academy. He spent more than 30 years coaching track and field at Edward Little High School — guiding the Red Eddies to 14 state championships —before moving on in 2016 to lead the teams at the University of Maine at Farmington.

LOVED AND RESPECTED COACH

Campbell, who is someone you don’t forget because of  his compassion, has coached many high school, college and world-class athletes in track and skiing for decades — and they all say one thing — he cares.

Adam Robinson credited his beloved coach for getting him involved in sports at Edward Little.

“We would go to his house a bunch of times and hang out there,” Robinson, a former Sun Journal sports writer, said. “He cares more than anyone I’ve been around, outside of family. He will make phones calls, comes see you. He remembers everything about you when he sees you.

Saint Dominic Academy track coach Dan Campbell picks senior Emily Gerencer to show an example during the first day of track practice at the Auburn campus in March 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“He just means a lot to a lot people. He got me into athletics at EL, and he was what really got me through a couple of years there. Once you graduate, he keeps in touch. He is real special to a lot of people in this community, athletic-wise and drug rehabilitation-wise. 

“You could write a book on what he has gone through. He is something else.”

Robbie Hollis ran for Campbell at Edward Little and for the University of Maine at Farmington track team after Campbell left the Red Eddies to take the helm of the Beavers teams.

Hollis, a 2019 UMF graduate, said he appreciates how Campbell takes a vested interest in athletes’ lives and aspirations instead of only focusing on their abilities on a track.

“He is open to learn the entire person …,” Hollis said. “He’s a good listener and he always puts out a helping hand. I was struggling emotionally, socially, athletically, and that’s the big thing Campbell is really good at was listening and being that mentor … 

“He is the most selfless individual who I actually know — and that is a fact. That’s a big thing that Campbell has been so helpful with. I can call him and talk with to him about anything and he would be there to provide that support.”

Moninda Marube, a world-class runner who began Campbell’s gofundme page, credits the track coach with providing stability in his life.

“He picked me up, clothed me, gave me a place to call home, gave me a university education, and continuously wakes up each morning to check on how I’m doing,” Marube wrote on the gofundme page. “Dan has literally given me life, hope and sense of purpose, both of which money can never buy.”

Ralph Fletcher and Campbell have been friends since childhood, and that longtime friendship grew stronger when Campbell coached Fletcher’s three children — Ben, Emily and Sam.

Ralph Fletcher could reel off countless stories about Campbell’s unique coaching, but there is one that particularly stands out.

“(Campbell) is sort of one of the kids, and yet they totally respect and understand where he is heading with his coaching philosophies, I guess you could say,” Fletcher said. “For instance, every year he would take distance runners over to the Kangamangus Highway (in New Hampshire) and run four or five miles.”

The course ended at a swimming hole, where the runners cooled off before they returned to their starting point.

“I lost my wife, Lyn, to cancer  20 years ago now, and she and Dan were quite close,” Fletcher said. “So it came time for a service for her. It was Dan who spearheaded the whole movement. I certainly was in no condition and mental state to do that. And then I lost Emily three years later … and it was Dan who put the whole service together. We had 500 or 600 people at Lost Valley, and it was Dan, Dan, Dan, and he was the head of the charge. He just did a wonderful job.

“I guess you could refer to (Dan) as the patron saint of helping others or the patron saint of empathy. He is an amazing human being.”

THE TIES THAT BIND

Ian Campbell, a 1998 Edward Little High School graduate, isn’t surprised at the outpouring of concern and support for his father.

“He was my coach when I was in high school — indoor track, outdoor track — everything,” Ian said.

Ian said the family is riding a wave of emotions since the diagnosis.

“My dad is certainly an emotional person, where he goes through really high highs then really low lows, but I am the middle man trying to keep him grounded,” Ian said. “When he gets down, I try to get him out of that dark space and let him know we have a great team working around him. He’s got great people working around him, and he’s got a ton of people pulling for him as evidence by the gofundme page.

“He is a staple of the Lewiston-Auburn community and everyone is all for him. In a strange way, he needs to help people, and that’s so ingrained him, and to see people reaching out to him … has been really good for his soul.”

Dan Campbell is congratulated by Jacob Gamache at Lost Valley in Auburn on in 2014 after Campbell realized he was selected as the Auburn Business Association’s Citizen of the Year. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Ian is moving from Falmouth to Auburn to be nearby and assist his father through this illness.

“We had no plans of leaving Falmouth, and then somebody made us an offer on our house that was too good to be true,” Ian said. “I sold my house and decided to buy a house in Auburn, and then two days later, I found out my dad had cancer.”

Dan Campbell has embraced the moral support from family and friends and is grateful for the contributions to help defray medical expenses.

“That’s the one thing I have seen, is this community has lifted me up,” Dan said. “It is God’s grace and mercy. That’s all I can say. This is a blessing, as crazy as this sounds, it is a blessing.

“(Cancer and coaching) has given me a reflection upon what’s real and not real. I know I am going to be OK, regardless of the outcome. If it is messed up in my lungs and they have to take my lung out, so be it. If they don’t, I will be happy.” 

A difficult upbringing and overcoming a 17-year addiction to alcohol and drugs motivated Campbell to reach out and help other people. He learned from his school of hard nocks and applied those experiences to his coaching.

“A lot of people have tough childhoods,” Campbell said. “I didn’t know what to do with the pain. Then, when I was 32, I found a power much greater than myself. Call it Jesus, call it Buddha … call it whatever you want, but it was real. It helped dissipate some of that pain, so I even gave more to help people. I felt connected to that peace. That’s what I thought I was supposed to do. 

“The emotional pain is gone because other people felt my pain. They shared. They came out. Pain is inevitable; suffering isn’t. I don’t have to suffer. That’s what the people have given me. The community, my friends, my family, they have given that to me. I am loved.”


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