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WILDCATS REBORN: Sports more than just a distraction for Arizona super fan Mario Nava

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 4:47 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 4:48 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Mario Nava is a familiar face at Arizona Stadium.

“When I go to the games and I gear up and I put helmet on, it’s over the top,” he said.

He’s the guy in the south endzone waving his red and blue flag while wearing a UA firefighter’s helmet.

“I never dreamt to be this kind of fanatical fan in a sense,” he said. “Things just took off.”

To say that Nava, a season-ticket holder, bleeds Cardinal and Navy is an understatement. He’s been coming to Wildcat football games since he was little. His home is a shrine to all things UA.

In the early 2000s, he rocked Wildcat hardhats as a member of the Zona Defenders. But in 2012, his fandom reached another level.

“They had a vendor and they were selling the helmets,” Nava said. “I was like, that’s pretty cool.”

Cameras captured Nava wearing that fireman helmet during the 2012 New Mexico Bowl and his popularity took off.

It was an incredible turn of events given what Nava had endured the year before in 2011.

“I think it was at the Oregon game,” he said. “I was at the game but I didn’t feel comfortable. I knew something was wrong I just didn’t know what.”

The problem turned out to be testicular cancer.

“Normally, they try chemo to reduce the tumor,” he said. “If they can’t do that, they’ll do surgery. Everything I did was opposite.”

Doctors removed a tumor the size of a softball.

But even serious surgery wasn’t enough to quell Nava’s insistence that he needed to return to Arizona Stadium.

“I asked the doctor if he would allow me to the game,” Nava said. “He told me I was in no shape to go. I told him I promise I’ll come back.”

Nava dropped 70 pounds during chemo.

He called it a very fragile time in his life, one made just a bit more positive thanks to a phone call from his favorite team’s head coach.

“When I checked my voice mail it was Rich Rod,” Nava said. “He said ‘Hi. This is Rich Rod. Coach Arizona football. I hear you’re a big Wildcat fan. Hope you’re doing well.’”

It was the start of something special. Nava met Rodriguez in person during the 2012 signing day.

“I walked up to him and he knew,” Nava said. “He goes, ‘Mario.’ I go yes. From then on, every time I would see him he’d come give me a hug.”

Nava’s relationship with Rich Rod was such that when the school unveiled its “Be The One” campaign, it teamed Nava up with the coach. There he was, sharing space with Rich Rod on tickets, posters and programs.

“These little kids come up to me and they ask me to sign their program,” Nava said. “To me, that was kind of funny. I’ve never done that before.”

Being the Wildcat Fireman comes with those kinds of perks, ones that Nava doesn’t take for granted.

But that’s what a decade of surviving cancer will do. It will give you a new attitude.

“I try to make the most of everything that I can,” he said. “So a loss is not really a loss for me. A loss is OK, we’ll get them next game. It’s a new perspective on wins and losses for me.”

Wildcat sports have been more than a distraction for Nava. In a way, it’s been his lifeline.

“This is the one thing that keeps my mind off of a lot of that stuff,” he said. “This is what keeps me going to stay focused on what I need to do and be me.”

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