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Oliva uses his cancer fight to spread awareness on the racetrack

Beau Bearden
bbearden@gannett.com

Zack Oliva is one of the many people who have battled and overcome cancer. Not everyone is fortunate enough to win their fight, but the 20-year-old knows your attitude can go a long way in coming out on top.

“A lot of people don’t know I had cancer, just because how strong, big and normal I look,” Oliva said. “They think, ‘Oh man, cancer makes you weak.’ That’s not always the case. If you put your mind to it and keep your good spirits, you can survive anything.”

Oliva battled neuroblastoma at five years old. The cancer is often found in the small glands on top of the kidneys, but there are less than 20,000 cases per year in the United States.

That fact didn’t sink in until later in Oliva’s life.

“When I was five, I thought, ‘Oh, this is normal.’ I didn’t know,” he said. “But as I grew up, I saw how much of an effect it had on people and the families. I do everything that I can to help out cancer survivors. … I enjoy hanging out with people who have it or survived it — just to see and hear their side of the story.”

Zack Oliva (11z) races during Jordan Page Winter Nationals at Southern Oklahoma Speedway in Ardmore.

Oliva’s story is also an interesting one.

He didn’t let cancer stop him from a normal childhood, as he joined many others who played baseball during their youth. However, he had to wear certain pads to protect himself.

“It affected me a little bit,” Oliva said. “My breathing was a little bit off and everything, but as I got older, I got stronger and I got better. I was a normal kid at that point.”

Fast forward to 2020 and you wouldn’t know Oliva was a cancer survivor. He can be found on race nights at Southern Oklahoma Speedway doing his usual pre-race routine in anticipation of the green flag.

“Once I get in my car, everything else is just off to me,” Oliva said. “I’m focused on what I’m doing. Getting in the car and hearing the motor start just relaxes me and lets me know everything will be alright. No matter what happens, it’ll be OK.

“It’s just my out to everything,” Oliva continued. “I get through the week going to work and (then) get to go racing. It’s a cool deal. I really love doing it.”

But that doesn’t mean he forgets his past. Oliva makes sure to honor the others who’ve been affected by cancer with a ribbon on the right side of his car.

“I try to run the children’s cancer symbol,” Oliva said. “Every once in a while, I change it — just to change it up. But every October, I always try to run a cancer symbol or wear a wristband for someone. I have a cancer wristband for one of my cousin’s — she has breast cancer. I try to keep up with October’s cancer awareness.”