Ramon “Ray” Riojos came in just more than a year ago to join the YMCA and as he signed up, he began to tell Sara, a staff member, why he had decided to get a membership. Ray weighed in excess of 300 pounds and he and his wife, Bernice, had decided that they would focus on developing a healthier lifestyle and set a goal to run together in the Brownfield Firecracker Road Race.
Unfortunately, within weeks of making that decision, Bernice died of cancer.
Ray was devastated and pretty much had withdrawn in mourning. However, some family members and friends were members of the Y and kept encouraging him to come to the Y and work out, if only to get out of the house a few days a week.
They finally talked him into it and he came in that evening to join. As Sara listened to Ray’s story, she told him that she was a runner and enjoyed running in 5K races. She pointed out that the Running the Ropes race in a neighboring town was coming up. If Ray would agree to train with her, she would run that race with him so he could get a feel for it before the Firecracker rolled around. She also said she would run that race with him as well. Ray agreed and after a month or so of training the two headed up the road to compete in the Running the Ropes event.
In the meantime, Sara contacted the organizers of the Brownfield Firecracker Road Race and asked if the Y could put together a team of runners who would participate in support of Ray and also bring awareness to the struggles of local families who had been impacted by cancer.
Thus was born Team Bernice, and on the day of the race, fifteen Y members showed up at Coleman Park to run with Ray. It was a hot, humid day and Ray struggled as he ran. As team members completed their own race, many went back to line the course and cheer him on. Sara and another Y member found Ray and began running along with him to give him encouragement.
As the race wound down, word spread through the field about Team Bernice and why they were running. As medals were passed out, people began to come up and present Ray with their own medals in support of him and Team Bernice.
Since then Ray has continued to come to the Y and work out, although he still struggles. Sometimes he will go a week or so without showing up. However, if he is out too long members start calling him and Sara will check on him.
In May, several members of the Y’s Team Bernice ran in this year’s Running the Ropes event and Ray was with them. He shaved three minutes off his time from last year!
A program site managed by the YMCA of Plainview Texas, the YMCA of Brownfield has a wide selection of programs that range from a summertime feeding program for at-risk children to youth sports to senior adult fitness. Making a lifestyle change is hard enough to begin with – doing it after you’ve lost your spouse to cancer is even harder. Ray needed a gym, but in the end, he needed more than that. He needed strength beyond what he had within him and he needed a community to provide support. He found that community of support at the YMCA.