Not ready to die
Pecora first noticed something was wrong near the end of last season, when he became the first Division II coach to reach the 500-win plateau.
He shrugged off the persistent cough as a cold. Even as he began coughing up blood, Pecora wasn’t ready to go to the doctor.
His wife, Tracy, saw it differently. A nurse, she kept urging him to get checked out.
Eventually, Pecora relented. Doctors found a spot on his lung. When he was told it was cancerous, he was stunned.
“It was weird at first,” Pecora recalled. “It was like ‘Get out of here! I work out five days a week, I never smoked, I’ve never been sick a day of my life!’ ”
Just a few months earlier, Pecora had seen the disease’s deadly power firsthand.
His brother, Ernest, died at age 64, shortly after being diagnosed with inoperable melanoma.
Pecora said his first thought upon learning that he had cancer was for his two sons and two daughters.
“ ‘It’s not fair to them,’ ” he remembered thinking. “That lasted about five minutes. Then I just focused.”
Pecora started reading up on the type of cancer that he had, and what he found wasn’t all that encouraging.
“The first thing I read, it said ‘80 percent of the people live five more years and 60 percent of the people live 10 more years,’ ” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to live a little longer than that!’ ”
Pecora approached the fight against cancer the same way he does on-the-mat battles.
“He went into that acting like it was a match,” Fogle said. “He had to score first, put up the most points, asking other doctors how he did compared to everybody else. That’s just how he is; he’s a great person and is always looking forward. He has a great mindset.”
Pecora laughs about it now – how he made the routine medical exams into competitions.
“If I had to take an oxygen test and see how far I could push something up, it was like ‘OK, what’s the best anybody’s done today? I’m going to beat them,’ ” he said. “I’m almost knocking myself out, making sure this thing’s the highest it could be.”