Before she died, Bella Rodriguez-Torres reminded others to enjoy the little things in life, whether by eating s’mores, showing compassion or riding “It’s a Small World” at Walt Disney World.
Her parents dubbed this mantra #LiveLikeBella, and suddenly the little girl who battled an aggressive childhood cancer became an inspiration locally and on social media.
Now her father, Raymond Rodriguez-Torres, and members of the Miami Police Department will make a 300-mile bike ride to visit Bella’s favorite place, Disney World.
“Sometimes I’ve questioned my own sanity for joining them on this,” he said. “But I’m really excited to go there and ride ‘It’s a Small World’ one more time in Bella’s memory.”
Bella, who always wanted to be a police officer, captured the hearts of Miami’s police force and became its honorary chief before she died at age 10 on May 28, 2013.
“It was very humbling to see these brave men and women to be inspired by the life of a little girl, who was so seemingly insignificant and yet so profound in the way she carried herself,” Rodriguez-Torres said.
For the past few months, Rodriguez-Torres has been waking up at 5 a.m. every day to train for the ride on Wednesday and has lost about 25 pounds in the process.
Every week, he practiced riding with the group of officers, as well.
“Bella was honorary chief of police, so I can’t let them down,” he said. “I can’t let Bella down.”
Lt. Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, formed a special bond with Bella, and helped coordinate the girl’s final trip to Disney.
“She named me her partner. Whenever she was in the hospital, I was with her,” he said. “I had the honor of being with her until her last breath.”
Since then, Ortiz has organized annual police bike rides to Key West to raise funds for pediatric cancer research along with the Live Like Bella Foundation.
The foundation, which Rodriguez-Torres created in June 2013, also supports families with children in treatment and provides memorial assistance for families who have lost children to cancer.
Ortiz said they hope to raise $25,000 towards pediatric research with this year’s ride. Last year, they raised about $30,000.
Despite her short life, Bella made a lasting impression and is still remembered and celebrated in the community.
When Bella died, NBA stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James penned #LiveLikeBella on their shoes during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. That same week, the Miami Marlins hung up a jersey with the hashtag in the dugout.
A section of Southwest 107th Avenue was renamed Live Like Bella Way in December 2013.
More recently, a park in South Miami-Dade was renamed the Live Like Bella Park. A month later, a pavilion at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital (formerly Miami Children’s Hospital) was named after Bella, as well.
Rodriguez-Torres will ride a bright red bike, custom-made by South Miami Bike Shop in Bella’s favorite color and with the words “Live Like Bella” in her handwriting. He keeps Bella’s honorary badge hanging from the bike seat.
“We miss her beyond what I could explain. I held my baby on her first breath on earth and in her very last,” her father said. “And as difficult as that is, it’s an extraordinary blessing to be able to do this now.”
Follow Rebeca Piccardo on Twitter: @rpicc002.