Team of breast cancer survivors paddle and protect Miami Marine Stadium basin

Save Our Sisters Dragon Boat squad serves as ‘godmothers’ to beloved waterway

There are about 60 members of the Miami Save Our Sisters Dragon Boat team, all of whom have survived breast cancer.

MIAMI“The dragon is a symbol of power, excellence, courage and boldness. ... A dragon overcomes obstacles. ... Please awaken this dragon and give her sight.”

Those words early on a Saturday morning on the shores of the Miami Marine Stadium basin were a blessing for a new vessel for a crew of mighty warriors

This is the Miami Save Our Sisters Dragon Boat team, the members of which are all breast cancer survivors.

“May the dragon bring us protection, may he bring us strength, and may we have a real good time while we do it.”

There are about 60 members of the team, with ages ranging from their 30s to their 70s, using the sport to not only heal their bodies but to feed their spirits and strengthen their souls.

“This team has empowered me to feel great, because when you get that diagnosis, you actually just think of the worst,” member Vivian Campo said. “Your mind goes blank and black. And this helped me come out of that.”

Said team captain Victoria Jackson: “What happens is you get out there on the dragon boat, you have to open your body to actually paddle. You’re with a group of like people that can understand. It’s just so powerful.”

Kim Bonomo, a member of the team since it was founded in 2007, has inspired countless others to join.

“Exercise is now our medicine,” she said. “We need this.

“Somebody is going to get diagnosed with cancer. And they’re going to see us and say, ‘I’m going to get through this. And I’m going to be strong, powerful and purposeful, like them.’”

It’s group therapy on the water. But they don’t just play, they compete against other breast cancer survivor teams all over the world.

“There is a tremendous amount of competition,” said Leah Kinnaird, a Dragon Boat team member and founder of the Virginia Key Alliance. “I mean, you should see, we get totally exhausted in a race.

“I was in the front of the boat. You don’t get there without being competitive.”

And so they work out hard twice a week, and the Miami Marine Stadium basin has been their gym for 15 years. More than just a practice arena, they feel protective over these waters. In fact, many call them the godmothers of the basin.

But lately, this once peaceful oasis has become a battleground.

Local 10 News has been reporting about a growing crisis for months — aggressive, reckless jet skiers who threaten and endanger others who passively recreate here.

“COVID brought out all this activity,” Kinnaird said. “All these boats are here.”

“they’re interrupting our practice. And this is our therapy,” Bonomo added.

It affects not just the sisters but the marine life that inhabits these waters.

Newly installed slow-speed signs have helped, but the Save Our Sisters team says those only work when marine patrol is around.

“We need more enforcement,” Kinnaird said. “You gotta be present here. People have got to learn that the signs mean something.”

There’s also all the trash that party boaters leave behind. It is often the Save Our Sisters team members who clean up after them.

“We are constantly picking up,” Campo said. “We’re constantly joining in on those coastal cleanups.”

It is but another challenge these women are resolved to overcome. They’ve conquered the dragon, fought cancer and won. They’re not about to lose this basin to those who don’t respect it.

“Without this, we can’t do it,” Campo said. “We have no place to go without if this gets polluted. We have no place to go.”

Sot specials lag dragon boat

Added Bonomo: “We have taken this on as the godmothers. Please listen to us like you listen to your grandmother.”

In the meantime, the cries are growing louder for more marine patrol protection, and many are calling for the City of Miami to restrict the basin to passive use only.

Commissioner Ken Russell said he’s implementing a dedicated rowing lane with no jet skis or motorboats allowed.

About the Dragon Boat team

If you or someone you know is recovering from breast cancer and wants to join the Miami Save Our Sisters Dragon Boat team, they’re always accepting new recruits. For more information, go to teamsosmiami.org.


About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.