Well, he did it. From Friday, May 27 to Saturday, May 28, New Orleans purple belt Ray Lopez took to the mats and rolled for 24 hours straight. It wasn’t easy, and there were times when it definitely wasn’t fun, but it was worth it — Ray’s arduous endeavor resulted in a significant amount of money and awareness being raised for his wife Kimberly, who lives with a rare gastrointestinal illness called CIPO.
The event was especially significant for Kimberly not only because of her husband’s willingness to go the distance for her, but also because it marked the one-month anniversary of when she was released from her three-month hospital stay. What’s more, it was the first time that Kimberly, a blue belt, had rolled since she got sick ten months ago. And what a welcome back it was.
“As amazing as it feels to be back training what I love, I’m so overwhelmed with pride for Ray–like, really, how many athletes of any discipline put themselves through 109 rounds of punishment for any reason, let alone awareness of a rare gut disease that affects more women than men–and by the BJJ community at large,” she said. “People turned out every hour for 24 hours on a Saturday during a holiday weekend in a party city like New Orleans, sober and focused, to make sure Ray always had a sparring partner, even at 4am. People who had never rolled EVER came and I gave little Rolling 101 lessons so they could join in safely. Some people stopped in just to drop off donations and watch. One student even made gluten free, low GI, lactose free, FODMAP-compliant, Inflammatory Bowel Disease-compliant brownies so I could have a snack my system could actually digest…that’s above and beyond, no one makes food I can digest except me!”
Obviously, as rewarding as the experience was, Ray had to fight hard to make it through the marathon open mat. “My body is like one giant cramp, and I have mat burn and chafing everywhere,” he said, still on good spirits despite being completely exhausted. “I was surprised how good I felt through twelve hours, but around hour fourteen I hit the wall hard.”
Ray’s struggle on the mat is symbolic of the fight Kimberly faces every day. “My heart is full and my broken spirit feels very much restored by all of this. CIPO is a 24-hour a day opponent for patients like me, and the idea that Ray and all of his sparring partners took on what it’s like to have to fight something every hour of the day non-stop in solidarity with a little blue belt like me is f***ing mind-blowing,” she said.
While Ray’s hard-fought battle on the mats is over, CIPO will continue to be a challenge for Kimberly every day of her life until and unless an effective treatment can be found. While this strong couple still needs all the help they can get to pay for Kimberly’s medical bills, they’re already planning ways to give back to the community that has given them so much. In July, they’ll be hosting a free/donations-only seminar for self-defense jiu- jitsu that will be “for both healthy residents AND with modifications for disabled or differently abled individuals” like Kimberly. If you’re interested in attending, info can be found on the Wulfpack MMA Facebook page or by contacting Kimberly directly at email@example.com.
Through the help and support of this community we’re all so lucky to be a part of, both Kimberly and Ray know they’ll be able to make it through whatever challenge life throws at them.
“I want to thank everyone from our family at NOLA BJJ, especially Prof. Charles Haymon for opening his gym, Nee State Fitness, for the event,” said Ray. “I also want to thank everyone in the BJJ community who reached out with words of encouragement, donations, shares and spreading the word. It truly is one giant extended family.”