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Cancer Survivor Races to Give Other Patients Hope

Sep 14, 2021

At just 5 years old, Zach Oliva was facing a devastating diagnosis — neuroblastoma.

After watching him struggle day after day with coughing “fits,” Oliva’s mom began searching for answers. That search eventually led them to the Jimmy Everest Center for Children’s Cancer at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. There, doctors found cancer – a tumor growing in his spinal cord and pushing on his lungs.

The surgery was expected to take only a couple of hours as doctors went in to remove as much of the cancer as they could. Nearly eight hours later, doctors emerged from the operating room and gave his family what could only be explained as miraculous news — the cancer had killed itself.

“It was a very rare deal,” Oliva said.

Now, at 21, Oliva remains cancer free, but his fight has motivated him to help other pediatric cancer patients find hope as they face their own battles for life.

“I thank God for giving me the chance to tell my story and help little kids and families trying to get through life while dealing with cancer,” he said.

A lifelong racing fan and now a racer himself, Oliva is now using racing to help raise awareness and money to support Oklahoma children fighting cancer. He will join close to 100 race car drivers in the Race 4 Time at the Southern Oklahoma Speedway in Ardmore on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

“If I could win this race, it would probably go down as my number one win because it means that much to me,” Oliva said.

The annual event was started by John and Nicky Webb, owners of the speedway. John Webb had lost his dad to cancer and knew he wanted to do something to make a difference, especially for the youngest Oklahomans battling cancer.

“I just hope they can find a cure,” Nicky Webb said. “That’s what John and I want is a cure, so kids don’t have to go through this.”

This year the Race 4 Time has expanded, offering a whole day of fun with the addition of a car show and fun fest featuring carnival-style games and bounce houses before the races, as well as food trucks — all of it benefiting Oklahoma’s youngest cancer patients.

“We are excited to be able to bring together so many car enthusiasts for such an incredible cause,” said Theresa Green, volunteer coordinator of the Car Show and Fun Fest. “Our sponsors have been absolutely incredible, helping us really go for a new fundraising high.”

Sponsors this year include the Chickasaw Nation, Evergreen Productions, News4, Smitty’s Classics, Love’s, Sam’s Club Edmond, Lowes Edmond and Oklahoma City, Costco Oklahoma City, Home Depot Edmond and Oklahoma City, Advance Auto, O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, DN Nail Supply, and Auto Zone. Road Kings Mobile Grill, Kona Ice Lawton, Mmm Burgers and Java Mafia are just a few of the food truck options available to guests.

Oliva looks forward to racing and to meeting the children with cancer who attend each year.

“My main thing is to not ask about the cancer and the doctors, but to just treat them like they are kids — play with them, dance with them, anything to bring a smile to their face,” Oliva said.

Volunteers know the event is a favorite for the patients from the Jimmy Everest Center who are able to attend.

“I really hope the public will join us too, have a great time, and at the end of the night, go home knowing they did something good for a child fighting cancer,” Webb said.

Oliva has come close to winning a couple of times and hopes this will be his year so that he can show kids fighting cancer they too can accomplish great things.

“You never know that might be our next governor. That might be our next Jeff Gordon,” Oliva said.

Last year, the event raised about $35,000, thanks to a matching donor, for Friends of the Jimmy Everest Center, a pediatric cancer fundraising initiative of Children’s Hospital Foundation. This year, organizers hope to raise even more and once again every dollar raised will be doubled thanks to a matching gift.

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