TAMPA — The experience in Tampa wasn't quite what Kathryn Harper expected for a sports internship in sunny Florida. • The team she promoted, then called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, hovered at the bottom of its division. The hurricane season scared her to death. And she didn't know anyone — her family lived 2,500 miles away in Seattle. • Three strikes and game over for Tampa. • But she had made one close friend before she left, Bert Martin III, and he missed her. As Harper weighed career moves to Seattle, San Francisco or San Diego, Martin made it his job to find her a job right here in Tampa. • Whatever it took, he said, to get her back.
Harper arrived in September 2004. That season four hurricanes threatened the Tampa Bay area — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. She expected sunshine and palm trees, but got flooded streets and power outages.
So she was thrilled to bump into a college friend at Home Depot soon after moving into a West Shore apartment. He had been part of her study abroad group touring Europe while they were students at Miami University of Ohio.
They met for drinks one night, and Bert came along, said Harper who is now 27 and works as an account rep for Softchoice. No sparks flew, because Harper let it be known there was a boyfriend in Washington, D.C.
Their next encounter was different. Their mutual friend's roommate had won tickets and a limousine ride to an Orlando Magic game at the St. Pete Times Forum. Harper and Martin were invited along.
"After the game, we ended up at Mangroves, just the two of us somehow," Martin said. At the Hyde Park restaurant, he began to confide in her. His father, Bert Martin II, had been diagnosed with brain cancer, he told her.
"I never met anybody like her," Martin said. "I knew I wanted her to be part of my life."
Despite the budding friendship, Harper ended 2004 by ending her stay in Tampa. She also ended her relationship in Washington, D.C. For the next three months she roamed Australia, New Zealand and Fiji with a college girlfriend.
Martin focused on training for a triathlon and moving into one of the original Channelside lofts. Every chance he got, he played golf with his father, whose cancer was in remission.
Once Harper returned to Seattle, they spoke almost daily, with Martin pitching the Westcoaster to come back.
"I didn't meet anyone I wanted to date,'' said the Berkeley Prep and Rollins College graduate, who is now 28 and a financial adviser for Intersecurities Inc.
"He was pursuing,'' she said, "but Tampa wasn't exactly on my radar. I had a whole world out there. I wanted to go out and live my life wherever I got the best job."
That dream job, thought Martin, would have to be near him.
Martin took her resume to a family friend who ran the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation. She wasn't hiring, but the corporate marketing department was.
By May 2005, Harper was scoring sponsors for the Stanley Cup champions and discovering that Tampa wasn't the soggy, southern bog she once feared. Martin introduced her to grits and fried okra, Gasparilla parades and quail hunting. Harper held him close through his father's untimely passing at age 56.
Martin proposed during a ski trip to Breckenridge, Colo., in February 2007.
"I faked a fall," he said. "I got out my camera and said come over so I can take a picture of us."
He was already down on one knee, pulling a diamond ring out of his jacket, when she skied over.
The couple married May 16 on the Gasparilla Inn golf course overlooking Charlotte Harbor in Boca Grande. The 125 guests danced and drank champagne in a tent on a croquet lawn.
An 18-day honeymoon took them to Tanzania to see wildebeests migrate across the Serengeti and to scuba dive in Mnemba Island, off the coast of Zanzibar.
They squeezed in some sightseeing on a layover in Dubai.
Tampa might seem tame after an African safari, but Mrs. Martin now happily calls it home.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.