Cancer survivor, angler, entrepreneur finds new joy
“I love the Keys. I love the lifestyle,” said Chris Molinaro, 28.
The former Islamorada resident is still a frequent visitor to the islands and now has a line of clothing that appeals to the Spanish speakers — Cayo Vida (“Keys Life”).
During a recent photo shoot of the clothing line at Nest Key (off Key Largo), Molinaro said the public was literally buying the shirts off the models’ backs.
“There are very few businesses in the Keys that cater to Hispanics. I have never had such a positive initial reaction [to one of my businesses],” he said. “I think it speaks volumes to where this company will be headed in the very near future.”
The shirts cost between $35 and $55. Online customers will be able to donate a portion of the shirt’s cost to the American Cancer Society because Molinaro — who has been a boat builder and fishing guide — can now also call himself a cancer survivor.
Molinaro grew up in the Tampa area, always on the water. By the time he was 13-years-old he had purchased his own boat with money he earned teaching a neighbor a watermen’s skillset. From there, he started the Bonefish Boatworks company at 19, and then it was a natural progression to begin guiding the new owners in the most beautiful spot in the world — the Florida Keys.
“I moved to the Keys in 2013 and started guiding full time,” Molinaro said. “By 2014, I was so sick I was only doing it some of the time. Eventually, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and moved back to Tampa for treatment.”
Part of the end stages of the treatment were not compatible with any type of activity in the sun. Molinaro said he started casting about (pun intended) for something else to do with his time. He settled on producing the line of apparel, something he was already familiar with due to a friend’s similar venture. Like many other upstarts, the business relies on alternative marketing ideas such as using friends — not professional models — in the photo shoots.
Television journalist Kristyn Caddell said once she learned about Cayo Vida’s emphasis on cancer prevention, she was onboard.
“I have family members who have been affected by cancer and in my profession I see what the disease does to so many,” she said. “Anything I can do in the name of charity and to help a guy who is truly an awesome human and great fisherman, there was no thinking about it. This was a ‘Heck, yes, count-me-in-moment’ as soon as Chris told me his idea.”
“It’s fun to get out there and meet people, all for a good cause,” said Michelle Walicke, a teacher with no modeling experience.
Molinaro said he will be moving back to Islamorada by the end of this year. In the meantime, Molinaro plans to travel and promote the brand.
“Now I see every day, good or bad, as a gift. I am still lucky that I am here. If you have a dream don’t wait to pursue it, tomorrow could be too late and if you have enough drive anything is possible,” he said.
Cayo Vida shirts and hats for men and women are available online at www.cayovida.com and at select retailers. Molinaro said there are plans to introduce hoodies, swim suits and buffs in the near future. For more information about the company, follow it on Facebook (CayoVida) or twitter @cayovidagear.com.