Leisure Lakes Park in South Dade renamed ‘Live Like Bella Park,’ in honor of fun-loving little girl

08/23/2014 12:00 AM

08/23/2014 10:49 AM

Bella Rodriguez-Torres loved to play, run around and, above all, laugh.

And now parkgoers will be able to follow the fun-loving example Bella set when they go to the newly renamed Live Like Bella Park, formerly Leisure Lakes Park in South Miami-Dade.

The renaming ceremony took place Friday with about 50 people in attendance, including Bella’s parents, grandparents and her 9-year-old sister, Rayna.

Bella died at age 10 of a rare aggressive childhood cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma, but her infectious nature throughout the six-year battle reached the hearts of thousands beyond her Miami hometown.

When Bella was 4, her family was reminded of how precious each day together was when a tumor on her spine left her paralyzed. She underwent extensive chemotherapy and radiation for the Stage 4 cancer, and regained the ability to run and play.

But her battle with cancer did not end. It returned five more times, but not once did her playful disposition waver, her parents say.

Her family began to chronicle Bella’s tenacity on social media. More than 75,000 Facebook followers worldwide rallied behind her. When Bella died in May 2013, her parents asked her followers to continue her legacy by embracing the family’s new mantra: “Live Like Bella.”

Her parents, Raymond and Shannah Rodriguez-Torres, began their work to constantly teach and create with their daughter’s life as a guide. They got the support of Miami-Dade County to dedicate the park in Bella’s name.

“This park stands as a testament to her spirit,” her father, Raymond Rodriguez-Torres, said. “I think she would be happy to see all of the families running around here enjoying life and realizing that life is a gift.”

Bold hues of red, Bella’s favorite color, were everywhere Friday at the renaming ceremony — on a piece of playground equipment, on the family’s T-shirts with the “Live Like Bella” slogan, on the fluttering balloons.

Attendees were all smiles as they reminisced about her laugh and “eyes the size of saucers.”

Also, the county parks department announced plans to build a new multipurpose community center to bring more residents to enjoy the 8.6-acre park’s facilities, which include a playground, baseball field, basketball and fitness courts.

After the unveiling of the new park sign, little sister Rayna wasted no time, becoming the first to run over to the playground. Her parents say they already look forward to bringing her to the park, time and time again.

Bella’s mom, Shannah, says she hopes parents also will bring their children to the park.

“Maybe they will put down their phone and play with their child,” she said.

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