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Event helps athlete fight leukemia

POSTED: December 29, 2013 11:40 p.m.

Imagine being a healthy 22-year-old college student, playing basketball and doing well in your studies.

One day, a trip to the doctor’s office for an infection turns up something you didn’t expect. Your doctor says, “You have been diagnosed with cancer.”

For Daniel Olvera, 22, that happened.

A 2010 graduate of Lakeview Academy, Olvera was 21 on June 9 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

On Sunday, Olvera’s Lakeview family helped in his fight against cancer by hosting “Hoops For Daniel.” The event featured a youth clinic and a three-on-three basketball tournament.

All participants donated $20 or more, which will go toward helping Olvera’s family with treatment costs. He said it’s still too early to know if he will need a bone marrow transplant; however, he wants to use some of the donations to help another family he met while going through treatment.

“I want to start off by saying thank you to the Lakeview Academy support group,” he said. “They have really, like the parents, helped tremendously, and they have shown me a lot of support.

“When I first came to Lakeview, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, because you see the support and love we have for each other.”

Olvera said a fungus in his fingernails and his mom urging him to go to the doctor led him to get treated. While having the fungus looked at, his doctor ran a blood test that revealed the cancer. Olvera said God was a part of the test because normally his doctor wouldn’t have run a blood test.

“This whole experience has been life-changing, but it has been quite an experience, quite a ride,” Olvera said. “I’ve had ups and downs, but I believe every day you have to live like it’s your last (day).

“I know that sounds cliche and all, but you really do. I was playing basketball. I was doing great, and all of the sudden, one day, I just found out. I think by that, you have to live every day by joy and embrace it.

“The people you give your time to and people that give you their time, embrace that. We just don’t know when things can change. Right now, I’m happy. I was happy the whole time. My motto was ‘things could be worse.’

“We look at the things we have and what we don’t have, and it’s so easy to be negative,” he said. “I think your life is a whole lot better if you put something positive. Like I tell myself, ‘Find five good things that you see every morning when you wake up. Look for five positive things in your life that you want to do, or that you have.’ I think you have to look at things like that, and that’s how it has changed me.”

Olvera attributed being in shape, eating healthy and exercising with helping him during treatment. He is out of school as he continues to recover. He said when he goes back, he wants to major in the health and fitness field.

He also said he received a phone call from Duke Blue Devils’ head coach Mike Krzyzewski — a call he never expected, but was grateful for receiving because Duke is his favorite basketball team.

“I told my mom ‘never would I have thought I would have to go through cancer to get to talk to Coach K,’” he said.

He will attend his first-ever Duke game next month.

Olvera’s former basketball coach Seth Vining was one of those who helped make Sunday’s event a reality. Vining said he, along with many others, pulled together to find some way to help Olvera and his family. Naturally, basketball was a good way to go.

“We had a dinner meeting one night. We were trying to think of ways we could help Daniel with some things we could do,” Vining said. “Because of Daniel’s love for basketball, and how he enjoyed working at camps and clinics and because he loved to play, we thought, ‘There’s a connection there.’

“So, we decided to do this event, which is basketball related, helping the youth. The three-on-three tournament idea was, ‘Let’s get some kids home for the holidays, that are in college, that are Daniel’s age. Give them a chance to come in and play some basketball and do something to help Daniel, too.’ That’s how we came up with the format.”

Vining called Olvera a “humble” and “super” young man before his illness and said he’s the same since his diagnosis.

Olvera’s best friend, Ralston Cash, said he was in Arizona, rehabilitating an injury, when Olvera’s mom called to tell him the news.

“I’m sitting there one moment worrying about my career, worrying about baseball, (thinking) ‘Oh my God, I’ve got a broken rib,’” Cash said. “All the sudden, reality strikes and it hits you, and you realize things aren’t as bad as you ever think, and you realize people got it worse.

“It just broke my heart. ... I can look at him now and see how strong he is and realize why we really are best friends and brothers, because I don’t want to surround myself with people that are weak and this shows how strong he is.

“He didn’t ever back down to it. Some people might back away. They might have fear, but he just stood up and he wasn’t afraid,” Cash said. “He knew what he had to do. Every time he went to chemo he was like, ‘All right, I’m going to chemo to get closer to getting better.’ That’s just amazing to see that.”

Dennis Henricks’ daughter, Brooke Henricks, 13, attended the youth clinic. He said the clinic could help his daughter learn that sports can help in many aspects of life because not only was she benefiting from the clinic for her playing skills, but Olvera would benefit from the donations.

He also said it was good to help someone from their community of Clayton, Olvera’s hometown.

“I don’t know how I would handle it,” Dennis Henricks said about having a child diagnosed with cancer. “I know the guardians that Daniel has are strong people and I don’t know if I could be that strong with it being that close of a family member.

“Through prayer and good people around me, I’m sure we could get through it.”


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