Dan Campbell notes the time of a 200-meter dash Wednesday during St. Dom’s indoor track team practice in Auburn. The team’s first practice was held outdoors after Campbell realized that they could not get into the building. Campbell was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2021 but went into total remission earlier this year. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — It took Dan Campbell only a moment to realize that returning to coaching is crucial to the long process of healing and is also the lifeblood of his existence.

He made a beeline to St. Dominic Academy and applied for his old job coaching the Saints’ indoor track teams as soon as he learned his cancer was in complete remission. He also works as an Uber driver and enjoys meeting all the people who come his way.

The longtime coach and former drug abuse counselor pointed to three reasons — passion, life and purpose — to explain why coaching is crucial to his survival.

“Why deny myself?” Campbell said. “In my oncologist office less than a year ago … and he just finished another PET, a body scan, and he came back and he said, ‘I just want to let you know you are in full remission in both of your cancers. Now go out and live.’

“Up until that point, for the past year and half, as much as I tried to keep up a stiffer upper lip and tried to be positive, inside, I was dying because you just don’t know. You try to do the best thing you can do. I have a strong faith and my faith kept me positive … and I wasn’t beaten, but I was getting sandpapered down with medical (trips to) Boston and Portland all the time.”

Campbell said the poking, prying and prodding by doctors as he battled the disease made him feel like the medical profession was running his life.


“When (my doctor) told me that piece, and he said, ‘Go live,’” Campbell said with a gleam in his eye. “It hit me. What do I like to do? What I have always done for the past 40 years! Why change that? I love (coaching).”

Dan Campbell addresses the St. Dom’s indoor track team Wednesday at St. Dominic Academy in Auburn. When the team arrived for practice, they discovered they were locked out of the building. “The kids all just grabbed their hats and coats,” Campbell said. Campbell was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2021. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Besides, he was just following doctor’s orders to try to live a normal life — and a return to coaching has put an extra spring in his step.

“I walked into St. Dom’s and I asked if my job was open,” Campbell recalled. “Only God could orchestrate this… The athletic director (Andrew Pelletier) is a brand-new AD and has never been an AD before, and I asked him if the job was open. He said, “Well, that’s really funny you asked that question today.’

“I said, ‘How so?’ He said, ‘We have opened it and I am interviewing a few people starting today.’ And I said, ‘Well, can I throw my name in the hat? You know, My hat in the ring?’ 

“(Pelletier) said, ‘Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I want the job. That’s why I am here.’ He said, ‘It is yours, but I have to interview these people.’ I said, ‘OK. Please do. Maybe you will find (someone).’ He said, “No! (The school) loves you here.’ That’s what brought me here. I love them and they love me. It was just symbiotic relationship.” 

Pelletier knew of Campbell’s expertise as a track coach, including previous stops at Edward Little and University of Maine at Farmington, but there was another reason why the Saints athletic director wanted to meet with the veteran and beloved coach.


“During the summer, Dan had called and let me know that he would not be able to return,” Pelletier explained in an email. “Being new to the school and with a vacant cross country position on the horizon, I decided to wait a couple weeks to fill the position and attempt to meet Dan in person. 

“This past summer was a tough one for Dan. He was dealing with a lot, but being the warrior he is, he called me on the same day that I posted the position, saying he would like to meet and discuss his return to coaching. We talked about all of the challenges ahead and ultimately decided that he is the right person to lead our cross country and track programs.”

It didn’t take long for Pelletier to welcome Campbell back into the fold at St. Dom’s.

“There isn’t another person with the same passion for coaching young adults like Dan,” Pelletier said. “He doesn’t just want to coach them in the sport. He wants to make them better people and help them understand that truly nothing is impossible. His knowledge for the sport of running is immense, but most importantly he’s a great person and a true role model. He’s a walking example of never giving up, and his athletes really take that message from him.”


Returning to coaching has certainly been a boost to Campbell’s mental health, but the tests and monitoring continue, and the effects of undergoing treatment still linger. 


He also had his doubts about coaching again.

“I didn’t know if I felt good enough physically. I was still beaten,” Campbell said. “I still fight a lot of things. I still do a lot of medical stuff, but the cancer is in remission. I am tired. I get tired a lot, but I am getting my strength back.

“The kids give me my strength; the job gives me my strength. God gives me my strength. I’ve got a supporting family, a loving wife, a loving daughter, a loving dog. I am so grateful. I wake up every day. Not to be cliché, but I pinch myself to see if this is still real. It is like I never stopped coaching. It feels just perfect. I look forward to going to practice every day. (Coaching) is my therapy.”

So does Campbell believe he is ready for long practices and bus rides during a demanding season?

“No!” Campbell said with a laugh. “St. Dom’s has been really good (to me). I have an assistant coach, and he drives and I sleep. Then I’ve got my energy and do the show (at track meets), and then I sleep on the way back.

“Coaching allows me to connect to the real world because in the world of cancer and any medical issue, you are in a bubble. People are walking on eggshells around you with not knowing what to say and how to say it. I am now outside that bubble. I am back into life.” 


He acknowledges that chemotherapy treatments affected everything, including his thought process, but he has seen improvement over time. He also recently learned about how his illness affected his family.

“My wife (Shari) and I just went on a vacation, and it was the first time she has ever talked about (the ordeal),” Campbell said. “For two days, she told me all these things that were going on that I wasn’t even aware of and things that happened.”

Pelletier stands by Campbell because of his dedication, patience and respect for his athletes. 

“Again, Dan is a selfless person,” Pelletier said. “He does not need to coach. His health battles continue to some degree, but he is in great state of mind. The kids are loving that he is leading our programs and excited to see what he does with our track programs this winter and spring.

“We chat about our families, religion and he always has ideas on improving our track programs. We are both dreamers and only want to see St. Dom’s athletics improve as a whole and what we want to do to get there. He is an asset to our school and someone that I am lucky to be around day in and day out.”

Campbell said St. Dom’s numbers are high and should have a bright future this track season.

“Our kids are on fire,” he said. “We are going to take it. We are Spartans. Every kid on that team is a Spartan. We know what we want, and we don’t want to make a ripple. We want to make a splash, and I don’t know what that splash is going to look like, but I am going to tell you right now, people are going to know who St. Dom’s is after this season is over.”

Like his determined band of athletes, Campbell remains just as a tenacious as he goes forth with a new fervor for life and a true sense of purpose as normalcy slowly returns.

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