Bringing Community Together for the Cause

The potential to help even one person serves as a powerful motivator for ovarian cancer survivor Marlynn Olivarez and gym owner Krista Iglesias Thomas, two OCRA Heroes who are wholeheartedly devoted to raising funds for ovarian cancer research and bringing more awareness to the disease.

“If one life is saved, it’s totally worth it,” said Marlynn, who is preparing for her ninth Ovarian Cycle Rio Grande Valley, one of Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance’s signature fundraising events, which will be held at Krista’s gym, TRYBE Cycle, in McAllen, Texas, on September 28.

“I’m blessed to be healthy and that’s why I want to try to make a difference,” Marlynn explained, noting that she will reach 33 years of survivorship in July.

Marlynn first became involved with OCRA a decade ago as a volunteer for the organization’s Survivors Teaching Students program, which brings ovarian cancer survivors and caregivers into classrooms to educate students studying to become doctors and nurses, by recounting their personal experiences and relaying facts about the disease. She is a Co-Facilitator for the STS program for medical students at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and she also facilitates the program with South Texas College School of Nursing in McAllen. 

The annual Ovarian Cycle Rio Grande Valley fundraiser is yet another avenue to help, as it enables her to inform the wider public in her region about the disease while also obtaining donations that go towards research, advocacy efforts and support programs. “It’s the only event south of San Antonio that involves fundraising and brings awareness to ovarian cancer,” Marlynn said.

When a new host was needed for the event four years ago, she sought TRYBE Cycle out and found an ardent supporter in Krista. “We’re just so honored to do it every year because I know that the funds go to research and they’re directly benefiting those who need it,” said Krista, who has learned a lot about the disease through her involvement in the event and is passionate about helping others become informed, too.  “A huge part of what we do is raising money but bringing awareness has also been one of the biggest things for me. It truly is so fulfilling to be able to save lives, in a sense, through bringing that awareness.”

Krista and her team promote both ovarian cancer awareness and the fundraising event all through the year, putting up posters in the gym and encouraging their members to participate in the cycling classes that are held specifically for the Ovarian Cycle Rio Grande Valley event. “I highly encourage our community to step in and people get really excited to help,” Krista noted. Last year, which marked the third time it was held at TRYBE Cycle, interest was so high that the classes completely sold out and the event exceeded its $10,000 fundraising goal, made possible with the support of our generous sponsors. 

“That’s what inspires me about the community here,” noted Marlynn. “They are willing to jump in and help the cause.” That community spirit shines through on the day of the event, with everyone coming together for those who have been impacted by ovarian cancer. “It’s more than riding bikes and raising money; it’s heartfelt, as we honor those who have lost their battle, and celebrate our survivors.” 

“Since it can be an emotional day for a lot of people attending, we make sure to let people know that we’re doing this together, that they are supported, and they have a community that cares,” Krista added.

At the start of each of the event’s three classes, Marlynn welcomes the participants and shares a bit about her story, with gratitude to her doctor who is a regular attendee and sponsor, and some information about ovarian cancer. Staff members are always present during the 45-minute sessions to provide assistance, and uplifting music helps to set the mood, with “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten closing out the playlist for each class.

“Though these are workout classes, our main focus here is to just be a support for people who are personally affected by ovarian cancer” Krista said. “We use the time to let them fill their cup for a moment and we try to be there to be a support system.”

Krista encourages other gym owners to host similar events if given the opportunity to do so. “If you can be a part of something that’s so much greater than yourself, I think it’s important to do that, even if it’s not directly affecting you. Maybe you just own a little gym, but that little gym can make such an impact in the grand scheme of things.”

Find out how to put on a fundraising event of your own, fitness-related or otherwise.

2023 Ovarian Cycle Rio Grande Valley.

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