Sisters the inspiration driving Victoria road bike team

Olynyk twins fight back-to-back battles with cancer

Team Spaghetti Factory riders Jill-Marie Moreau

Team Spaghetti Factory riders Jill-Marie Moreau

On the surface, Stacey Olynyk appears built for road bike distance riding.

Young, fit and healthy looking, with a beaming smile that does little to hide her positive attitude, the 25-year-old Victoria woman seems well-prepared to take part in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer from Vancouver to Seattle in June.

It wasn’t always that way.

Two years ago, Olynyk and her twin sister, Karen rushed to be with family in Saskatchewan when their father died suddenly. While there, Stacey encountered an itchiness all over her body that she couldn’t explain.

Tests later showed she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue that can also present such symptoms as swollen glands, night sweats, fever, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.

Having put on hold thoughts of riding in the cancer fundraiser and still grieving the loss of her father, Olynyk put all her energy into battling her own cancer. Her best friend, Karen, was there every step of the way.

By mid-2012, Stacey was declared cancer free and rekindled her desire to ride with Team Spaghetti Factory, led by former boss and restaurant owner Mike Gonzalez.

But there was another potential hitch to the plan.

Last fall, Karen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and embarked on an aggressive treatment regimen of her own.

Stacey, in classes at Camosun College, could have put the ride on hold again. After much soul-searching, she sent Gonzalez and her teammates a simple text message: “Let’s do this!”

Stacey’s goals are simple: “I want to be able to raise money for cancer research and to help my sister. Riding now creates a whole new perspective on things.”

In an Oak Bay Avenue café with her teammates, she spoke of her surprise at the outpouring of support since she and her sister took their stories public. Not only has Olynyk received well wishes and donations from friends and former co-workers with whom she had lost touch, last month Oak Bay Bikes gave her a Specialized road bike.

“I’ve just been amazed at the humanity of people,” she said.

Gonzalez said the plan to do the ride in 2012 started as a way to keep a promise to Olynyk, to raise a little bit of awareness about cancer research and to help out Karen with expenses while she is undergoing treatment.

“No one expected to get the type of response that we’ve received,” he said.

Not only have Victoria media taken the story and run with it, Gonzalez has heard from Spaghetti Factory alumni around the world through the team’s Facebook page and website.

“Working at the Spaghetti Factory, with the friendships and relationships you develop, you don’t get that just anywhere,” Stacey said.

Team rider Jill-Marie Moreau, who currently works at the restaurant along with teammate Charlene Love, said there’s plenty of buzz about their efforts and the story of the twins.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” she said. “And everyone is so inspired by Stacey.”

That level of support shocks Olynyk.

“I never thought that I could be an inspiration,” she said. She stopped for a moment to remember her own inspiration to get better and stay healthy, pro triathlete Laurel Wassner of New York City, who beat Hodgkin’s and now campaigns for cancer awareness with twin sister and fellow triathlete, Rebeccah.

“So many people have a connection to cancer,” said Love. “They have very personal reasons for wanting to donate.”

As of Thursday the team had raised more than $6,200 toward its goal of $15,000 with more than four months to go. A separate fund, to help with expenses for Karen while she is undergoing treatment, is also available on the team’s website and has so far brought in more than $600.

To help out or to find more information, visit teamspaghettifactory.com or go to conquercancer.ca.

editor@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich repeals, reschedules two public hearings for consideration of new information

Move to hold public hearings for second time ‘very rare,’ mayor says

(File - Sooke News Mirror)
Man exposes himself to woman, children on Sooke trail

Suspect believed to be between 55 and 65 years of age

Forty-two residential properties in Oak Bay were assessed the speculation and vacancy tax in 2019 for a total of $693,000. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
74 Oak Bay property owners paid $693,000 in spec tax

42 properties were assessed with the SVT in 2019

Patrick MacMullan won $28,000 playing Toto. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Greater Victoria man wins $28,000 while watching football

Winning ticket purchased at Colwood convenience store

Victoria police are looking for missing woman Dana Frazer, 54, who is driving a blue 2016 Nissan Frontier pickup truck. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
UPDATED: High-risk, missing woman located by Victoria police

VicPD issued a missing alert for Dana Frazer on Jan. 15

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

The District reopened access to the Sooke Potholes on Friday. (Contributed - Ashley Ensor)
Sooke Potholes reopen after storm

The park was closed on Wednesday after down power lines

Nursing staff at West Coast General Hospital celebrate the announcement of a $6.25-million expansion of the emergency department that will start in March 2021. (File photo)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Most Read