Lightning fans were sending love, prayers and well-wishes Wednesday to anthem singer Sonya Bryson-Kirksey, who is fighting for her life at a local hospital following a coronavirus diagnosis, WFLA-Channel 8 reported late that night.
“She wanted the community to know to get vaccinated,” reporter Melanie Michael said Bryson-Kirksey’s husband, Jimmie Kirksey Jr., told her from the hospital room, “so you don’t infect anyone else.”
Bryson-Kirksey, who worked as a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant before retiring from the armed forces in 2015, has been singing the U.S. anthem for the past eight seasons before Lightning games at Amalie Arena.
“She is like a ball of life and light,” coach Jon Cooper said earlier this season. “Her smile radiates, and there’s a reason the people love her, not only because of her voice.”
Popular with fans and visible at community events, Bryson-Kirksey attended last week’s boat parade at Julian B. Lane Park in Tampa, which celebrated the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win over the Montreal Canadiens. She posed for photos with fans and helped celebrate the franchise’s second straight Cup.
She is so important to the Lightning, they took recordings of her voice to the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles during their 2020 playoff run and awarded her a championship ring when the run ended with a title.
“She’s great,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said in May. “You can hear the ovation she gets before every home game, so it certainly adds to the experience here at the rink. I think she’s been a huge success here in Tampa, and certainly a crowd favorite.”
Bryson-Kirksey, who has multiple sclerosis, recently worked with apparel owner Matt Shapiro and fellow fan Sarah Couture to design a tee-shirt featuring Bryson-Kirksey’s signature blue lipstick, with all proceeds from sales going to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Throughout the pandemic, she has read and recorded children’s stories on platforms like Spotify, Google Podcasts and YouTube through her Sonni Reading Project, which she started with her sister, Phillis.
A talented visual artist, she has also provided artwork to local businesses, as well as USF, for a multiple sclerosis fundraising auction.
Those interested in sending cards and/or letters can address them, c/o the Lightning, to Amalie Arena at 401 Channelside Dr., Tampa, Fla. 33602.
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Here is some of the reaction from social media: