MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Breast cancer survivors joined in a show of unity and athleticism for the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

Those who competed said it goes far beyond winning or losing.  Rather, it is the message it portrays: to keep on fighting.

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Despite the gloomy weather, competitors made their way to the water at Miami Marine Stadium.

175 breast cancer survivors from both North and South America took part.

The sport comes from the 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition of dragon boat racing. Breast cancer survivors have embraced the sport for both its physical conditioning and the camaraderie that comes with it.

“We like to think that the doctors have saved our lives, but it is the sport that saves our spirit,” said Kim Bonomo, founding president of Save Our Sisters, a dragon boat racing team in Miami made up entirely of survivors. “It’s very important for breast cancer survivors. After we’ve gone through treatment, we feel kind of victimized and we are hurting. Our families worry for us. And we get out on that boat, and we start paddling, and we remember that we are powerful. We are purposeful.”

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“The pandemic has been hard. We know that. But it’s nothing like hearing those words ‘you have cancer,'” said Save Our Sisters president Victoria Jackson. “We know how scary it is, but in this age, we know that medicine is coming a long way. Early detection gives you a good fighting start. There is life after breast cancer. It’s a really good life.”

Participants were united by their hard-fought battles, their hope for a cure, and the desire to spread an important message.

“Don’t be afraid. Get your mammograms,” said Bonomo. “God forbid something goes wrong, get in touch with us. We’ll get you back into a full life.”

25 teams of all skill levels took part, with members from the United States, Canada, Panama, Brazil, Colombia and Chile. Six of those teams were made up entirely of breast cancer survivors.

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More more information on Save Our Sisters, go here.

Karli Barnett