University Park

Dragon Boat Festival organizer proud of event in University Park

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Kim Bonomo has spent the last three years to make this weekend's Dragon Boat Festival a reality.

As president and co-chair of the festival, Bonomo -- also the captain of the Miami-based team Save Our Sisters -- called organizing the festival "one of the proudest moments of my life" as she began to cry.

"I put three years of my life into this to make this experience and bring this to Florida," she said.

Teams from around the world have been arriving all week to participate in the international event that celebrates cancer survivors.

The main event will be held Saturday at Nathan Benderson Park, but pre-race events, such as registration, training workshops and practice began Monday. The three-day outdoor festival will be held rain or shine.

When the Miami and Tampa dragon boat teams made the bid to the International Breast Cancer Paddlers' Commission to bring the festival to Florida, Bonomo said they also proposed that they would bring 10 teams to Florida in 10 years. At the time, there were only three teams -- Tampa, Miami and Orlando.

They are on their way to reaching their goal; there will be nine Florida teams participating this weekend, including the Sarasota/Bradenton-based team, Survivors in Sync.

"We are so thrilled and honored to leave that legacy in Sarasota," Bonomo said.

While Bonomo said she would have loved the event to be held in her hometown of Miami, she knew it would have become too expensive.

"We wouldn't have gotten the community involvement, the community engagement that we got here," she said. "We are so proud to be in the United States and to be the home team."

Nathan Benderson Park is also a great venue for the event, Bonomo said.

"It is a world-class rowing facility," she said. "I've never seen a better-executed, organized event. It's spectator-friendly. It's athlete-friendly. The course is efficient."

Gaellene Gore traveled from Devenport, Tasmania, Australia, with her husband, James, to paddle with her teammates for the national team, Dragon Abreast Australian Spirit.

As she finished a workshop on paddling, she spoke about how excited she is to be participating with and being around other breast cancer survivors.

"We don't talk about breast cancer," she said. "We talk about silly things. Fun things."

The positive attitude of the six-year survivor of lymphedema was typical of many of the other participants.

"I love it. It's good fun," said Diane Bradshaw, from Canberra, Australia. "Also, you relate with a group of women who have been through what you have."

Bradshaw said the esprit de corps among her teammates was uplifting.

"If one of us get tired and can't paddle," she said, "we just pull our paddle in and the others paddle harder."

The positive vibes of the participants was an inspiration to event ambassador Rhoda Waiss.

"I like the energy that surrounds these breast cancer survivors," said Waiss, who volunteered to be the local contact for two teams from Oregon. "I prefer to call them breast cancer thrivers."

Waiss is a certified health coach when she is not volunteering. Her father died in 2010 of cancer.

"I want to be around these thrivers," she said. "It makes me be a better health coach."

Like the other women and men participating in the festival, Bonomo is a breast cancer survivor, a title she has had for nine years this month. Through this event, Bonomo hopes that women everywhere will practice breast health awareness.

"We want the women out there to get their mammograms," she said. "We want to make sure that the next generation knows that there are things that we can do to prevent getting this disease."

But Bonomo noted that there is also a fair share of loss.

"I buried two sisters this year," she said. "We lose sisters, some of the girls on the team. But what I've taught them is that we have to hold our heads up. I know that they lived longer because they paddled with us. I know they lived happier because they paddled with us."

Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

Carl Mario Nudi, Nudi's Neighbors columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7774 or at cnudi@bradenton.com.

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