Greg Dayoob stood in front of his wrestlers inside a silent wrestling room at Mountain Pointe High School in October.
Tears filled the eyes of everyone in the room, including his own. It was the second time Dayoob has had to address his team in a three-month span. The first was in August, when he told them he was diagnosed with Stage 1 colon cancer.
This time, however, he revealed he had also been diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. He started chemotherapy the next day.
“It was very emotional,” Dayoob said. “I had to tell them what is going on and that I had to miss the season. All the kids hugged me.
“I haven’t seen them since then.”
Just months prior, Dayoob had married his wife, Naomi. The newlywed used it as motivation to get back in shape. He began to run, lift weights and even went on the popular Keto diet with his assistant coach, Mark Caliendo. Dayoob lost nearly 60 pounds, Caliendo 30.
Naomi encouraged Dayoob to have his colon checked for cancer due to the disease running in his family. That’s when doctors found the small tumor. More tests revealed other tumors on the right side of his liver. Those turned out to be far more serious.
“He brought me in the office and closed the door and he told me it was in his liver and he had to start chemo immediately,” Caliendo recalled. “My heart dropped. On a personal side, my immediate reaction was like, ‘what?’ I think that’s the reaction most people have when you find out someone close to you has cancer.”
Caliendo was the first person in the Pride wrestling program to find out about Dayoob’s cancer diagnosis. He was also the person Dayoob entrusted in taking over the program in his absence along with assistant coaches Victor Lujan, Andre Roy and Rusty Baubie.
The news left Caliendo speechless.
“Every day, every discussion, everything we have worked toward with this program didn’t matter,” Caliendo said. “The only thing that mattered was him beating this. He’s strong, he’s healthy and he’s still young. I knew he could beat it.”
It’s been four months since Dayoob informed his wrestling program of his diagnosis. His body reacted well to the chemotherapy. On Jan. 31, he underwent a procedure to remove parts of his colon and the right side of his liver where the cancer was found. Doctors found a small tumor on the left side of his liver as well but were able to remove it without additional problems. He is still in pain from the surgery, but it was worth it.
Blood tests found no signs of cancer remaining. He anticipates being able to return to school and the wrestling program in a matter of weeks.
“I really won’t be 100 percent until August,” Dayoob said. “But I’ll be able to get back on campus and start teaching in a few weeks. That’s only because my body reacted so well to the chemo before and what they’re giving me now if much milder so they’re letting me go back.
“I just need to take it easy. I can’t demonstrate any moves in the wrestling room.”
When Dayoob returns, he will walk into a wrestling room that received upgrades since his departure in October. He had always dreamed about putting in benches on one side of the room, so his wrestlers didn’t have to get ready on the floor. He wanted to install a television on the wall to watch video as a team.
He also dreamed of creating an area in the office where he can bring wrestlers in one at a time to watch film and critique their last match. He wanted to organize the office and get new uniforms for the program.
With the help of donors, all of that has been done. Caliendo’s goal from the beginning was to have Dayoob return to the room he always dreamed of having. Now he can.
“As strong and as masculine as he is, he’s got an emotional side and I’m positive when he walks in this room and realizes this program is still going strong, he will shed a tear,” Caliendo said. “I think he will just be thankful to be back in this room.”
When Dayoob first coached the Mountain Pointe wrestling program from 1999-2003, he inherited a team that had already sustained success on the mat. Though the Pride had never had a state champion wrestler. That changed under Dayoob.
He helped develop Clifford Starks, who won Mountain Pointe’s first individual championship in 2000. He also oversaw the development of Chris Donnay, who was crowned champion in 2002.
Mountain Pointe seldom had the same success after Dayoob left the program in 2003. But since his return in 2017, it has again started to build in a positive direction. He took several wrestlers under his wing in hopes of developing them into one of the top wrestlers in the state in their weight class. One of them was then-freshman David Palosika, who is now a senior for the Pride.
He was one of five Mountain Pointe wrestlers that qualified for the state meet last weekend in Prescott. Palosika placed second overall in state in the 220-pound class Friday night.
“He crafted me.” Palosika said. “He helped me improve in the wrestling room and outside with life lessons. He paved the way for me.”
Palosika still recalls the day Dayoob informed him and the rest of the team about his cancer. He never had any doubts his coach would fight the disease but couldn’t imagine not seeing him again as he was in the final year of his career.
“It was emotional, I’m not going to have my head coach who has been in my corner every match,” Palosika said. “But I knew I had to step up and become a leader to try and fill that gap.
“I miss that man so much. I know I’m going to give him a big hug when I see him.”
Caliendo redesigned the shirts every coach and wrestler received this season. On the front, it has Mountain Pointe’s logo. On the back, an interlocking “MP” is at the top of the shirt, with the program’s motto, “Practitioners of the world’s oldest martial art,” on the back.
In between is the motivation for this year’s team: “#DayoobStrong.”
The support Dayoob has received from the team and community at Mountain Pointe has been overwhelming. That, along with the support from Naomi and the rest of his family, he says helped him get through the hardest fight of his life.
“This kicked my ass. Cancer kicked my ass,” Dayoob said. “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. When someone sits there and tells me I’m cancer free, I can’t help but get such a good feeling being able to say that now. This changed my outlook on a lot of things.
“Every day healthy is a good day, no matter how it goes. I won the fight.”
Mountain Pointe state qualifiers