GAINESVILLE — About 29½ hours after Holly Palmeter and her 11-year-old grandson, Alexander Ruhe, arrived at the Butler Plaza Walmart in Gainesville on Wednesday afternoon, Alexander found himself face to face with one of his favorite athletes — Tim Tebow.
Ruhe was wearing a navy Denver Broncos jersey with the No. 15 emblazoned in white and carrying a copy of Tebow's new book, Through My Eyes.
"I like the jersey," Tebow told him.
And that made the wait well worth it.
Palmeter of Hudson was among several hundred fans who lined up early Wednesday to buy a copy of Tebow's book and be among the 600 who would receive autographs from the former Gator quarterback.
"I didn't care if I had to wait a week for that man," Palmeter said. "He's an inspiration. My grandson's going to be in middle school, and he's got a good role model in Tim. His book is wonderful. I've started reading it — at midnight we all got two copies. I'm a longtime Gator fan. It was well worth it."
Tebow arrived at the Walmart about 6:03 p.m. Thursday and was scheduled to sign books until 8. Earlier in the afternoon, Walmart roped off a section of the store for fans awaiting Tebow's arrival. By 5:45, the parking lot was packed, fans were jammed in the store, and more than 1,000 books had been sold.
"The first person arrived around 10:30 a.m. (Wednesday), and we didn't begin selling the book until midnight," said Frank Bradley, a Walmart employee who spoke before management stopped the interview, saying the corporate office would not allow reporters to speak to anyone in the store. "Everybody in by 3:25 was guaranteed a signed book. They stayed all night, and the line has been growing ever since."
Marian Walmsley worked 32 hours straight to make sure she could get the day off at the Department of Corrections. She arrived at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday to begin her wait. She has about 2,000 photos of Tebow, including some from his visits to inmates at the DOC. But she was willing to wait all night to be around the former Heisman Trophy winner once again.
"I'm the 12th person in line," she said. "He's such a role model. He's not just a great athlete, it's his leadership, determination and willpower. Anything he can do to help anybody he goes above and beyond."
Not everyone found the experience pleasant. Many fans weren't aware they would have to spend the night in line to get the book. They expected to receive a number or wrist band to return later and get their autographs.
Darian Williams convinced her friend to go early Wednesday, but she was among those who didn't know she'd have to stay.
Palmeter said Walmart officials did all they could, including handing out drinks and other refreshments. "They were wonderful to us," she said.
Andrew Arrington waited 24 hours for Tebow's autograph, and while he was thrilled to have it, he said there were a few problems.
"I'm just a big Gator fan," he said. "I've been wanting his autograph for years, and for years I've been trying to get it. But at the very beginning it was chaos, I don't think it was very well planned. But it got a lot better. (Thursday), I don't know what time, but they finally started giving us wristbands after us begging for an entire night. I knew, but a lot of people didn't know they had to stay all night. It was a long night but definitely worth it."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I didn't care if I had to wait a week for that man. He's an inspiration. My grandson's going to be in middle school and he's got a good role model in Tim. His book is wonderful. I've started reading it — at midnight we all got two copies. I'm a longtime Gator fan. It was well worth it."
Holly Palmeter of Hudson