Inspiring Okeechobee: Nano Corona – A Life Changed By Cancer

OKEECHOBEE — How many of you have lived here most your lives, but still haven’t “met” everyone? For a person like me who has lived in Okeechobee since the age of 14, I pride myself in knowing most everyone. This week’s Inspiring Okeechobee person, Nano Corona, reports visiting Okeechobee since 1977 and moving here in 1989 with his family from Miami. Our first meeting occurred this past week.

Mariano “Nano” Corona was born in Cuba, and moved to Miami with his family as an infant. He, alongside his wife Kelly, own a cow/calf operation in Basinger. Son Antonio runs the ranch, while son William spends time helping at the ranch when he is not working as a firefighter. They also enjoy spending time with Antonio’s wife Stephanie and new grandson Kase, who is nine months old.

Nano Corona and wife Kelly

Nano told of his journey through cancer which was diagnosed in 2010. He said a severe case of heartburn and some swallowing issues prompted him to go to the doctor; but for a man that was never sick, cancer was the furthest thing from his mind.

Once he was given the diagnosis locally, Nano and wife Kelly got to work quickly doing their research and found that the best option for treatment was with cancer specialists in Miami. For Corona, he says, “Thank God I had good insurance.” This allowed him to have options he may not have had otherwise. He also credits his survival with “taking the bull by the horns” and “persistence.” From diagnosis to initial treatment was seven days! Corona who endured treatment for one and a half years said, “I drove myself to chemotherapy and still don’t know how I got home to Okeechobee some days.”

When asked why “Ride for the Fight,” Corona noted that he found little success in obtaining help for himself or others from well-known organizations, which prompted him to take matters into his own hands.

Initially Corona thought that the “Ride” would be on two wheels, but as things evolved the Ride for the Fight became a rodeo event. Part of the Corona family cattle operation is a herd of purebred Brahma bulls; hence bull riding is now the signature event. The Ride for the Fight added a CrossFit competition in Flagler Park, and Corona says there is more to come!

The Corona family established a nonprofit organization Ride for the Fight to enable them to do great things and they pride themselves on ensuring donors that all money raised is kept locally, because of the limited resources for folks in Okeechobee who struggle with cancer. Corona also notes that they have provided help for more than just cancer patients, extending a hand to others who face a catastrophe. The organization has helped pay for transportation to treatment, helped with home repairs or modifications, helped pay a bill if needed and just about anything else that someone may need when they are in crisis.

When I turned to Nano’s wife Kelly to ask, what would you say about him if he wasn’t here? She is as quiet and humble as he, but then did note “he has a big heart, and sometimes I have to reign him in.” She continues, “He just likes to help people.”

Nano admits that it is a balance of trying to help, while trying to ensure that people do not take advantage, but he remains committed to “God first and then family and then community” in that order. More recently he began to commute to pick up food, filling his horse trailer and delivering it to the Catholic church for distribution.

When asked what he does in his “spare” time (not that there is much) Nano says, “I love the ocean” and find peace both at the ranch and the ocean – just a different kind of peace, but peace still the same.

If you haven’t met Nano and his family, I would encourage you to go today to Cattlemen’s Arena to see a bit of barrel racing and meet this wonderful family who is just an average family, living an average life, in our average town doing amazing things. Thank you, Nano, for inspiring us by sharing your journey through cancer and changing our community by giving back.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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