Sunday, June 24, 2018
Events

With a veteran as parade grand marshal, Gasparilla moves away from celebrity hosts

Romulo "Romy" Camargo isn't a professional athlete, comedian, beloved 1990s TV star or the basis for a movie about his exploits. He's a quadriplegic veteran from New Tampa who was wounded in Afghanistan.

And he's the 2016 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates grand marshal.

This marks a turn away from the celebrities and athletes who have helmed Tampa's most raucous event most recently, from actor Jim Belushi to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Alstott.

"The biggest thing we wanted was to select someone local — an American hero — but someone local who could inspire the community," said Nikki Yourison, public relations manager for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the parade and festival's title sponsor.

Organizers started to look in the direction of distinguished community members in 2015 by splitting grand marshal duties between Extra host and Saved by the Bell star Mario Lopez and MacDill Air Force Base's U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris, who was part of the mission that spawned the book and film Black Hawk Down.

The parade's love for celebrity hosts stretches throughout its more-than-100-year history. Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and even Woody Woodpecker have held the ceremonial title, said Darrell Stefany, owner of festival organizer EventFest.

Hard Rock became a title sponsor in 2010 and has held the position every year except 2013. The contract gives it the right to put forth nominees for grand marshal to the parade committee, Stefany said.

"There isn't always a grand marshal, but we've decided that we do want to, going forward, to have someone in that position every year," Stefany said.

When it came time to choose this year's grand marshal, Yourison said, the selection committee turned to local organizations and came up with a short list of inspiring people who represent Tampa Bay's achievements.

Camargo, 40, graduated from Crystal River High School in 1993, enlisted in the Army and rose to the rank of chief warrant officer 3, before a bullet to the neck paralyzed him during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2008.

He returned to Tampa Bay with bleak prognoses.

"They said I'd never be able to breathe on my own again," Camargo said.

Now, he breathes without assistance, pecks out emails on his iPad with a mouth stick and occasionally heads out to Ybor City's Bad Monkey bar for Fireball Whiskey and apple cider with his friends.

Support from his wife, Gabriela, plus stem cell surgery and rehab therapy brought him this far, he said.

In June 2015, the Camargos opened StayInStep, a Tampa spinal cord injury rehab center, to pay forward their fortunes and lessen the commute for those in need. He used to have to travel to Orlando to get therapy twice a week, he said. Now he's able to work out four times a week at StayInStep.

"We've had about 18 clients (since the opening) and it has just been a blessing to be able to work out with people here in Tampa," Camargo said. "We can't promise recovery, but we can promise quality-of-life improvements."

He's excited for the chance to be Gasparilla grand marshal. It'll be his first time attending the parade, he said, as well as a chance to share his testimony about what can be accomplished with hard work and faith.

Plus, he'll get to show off his core workout by sitting upright in his wheelchair while riding in his custom motorcycle sidecar.

Stefany spent the better part of day working out logistics for Camargo's motorcycle, which could possibly overheat with the parade's slow pace.

"We're working hard to find a way to present him on the route so that people can honor him and salute him for his service," he said.

Bead-tossing has been delegated to friend and StayInStep lead trainer Steven Hill, a retired Army medical officer who performed Camargo's tracheotomy in Afghanistan.

"I'd never heard of Gasparilla until I moved here," Hill said. "I thought it was some drink from the Midwest or something."

The Hard Rock is in its final year of the current three-year sponsorship agreement, Yourison said, but there are signs it might be staying on for more parades. Hard Rock officials have already been in talks with EventFest about next year's parade.

Are they ruling out celebrity grand marshals for the future?

"I wouldn't say that," she said. "We work with rock stars. It's just an added bonus, I think, to have a rock star alongside a community hero. You never know what will happen in the future."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Robbyn Mitchell at (813) 226-3373 or [email protected] Follow @RMitchellTimes.

Comments
See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

When Alicia Wolding joined Datz as the new executive pastry chef last year her hair was rainbow — pretty much the whole ROY G BIV spectrum in cascading tresses. More recently, it’s bright purple, somewhere between iris and lilac. This is the color yo...
Published: 06/22/18
St. Petersburg couple drive a minivan, volunteer at church and were CIA spies

St. Petersburg couple drive a minivan, volunteer at church and were CIA spies

What's it like to start a family when you're working for the CIA? Jihi and Andrew Bustamante know.
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride’s popular parade has moved to downtown St. Petersburg’s scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at...
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

Summer Classic Movie Series: See 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 3 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $10, $7 members. (813) 274-8982; tampatheatre.org.St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue’s Grand Central Distr...
Published: 06/22/18
Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Grief can unhinge us, disconnect us from our daily lives, make us do things we’ve never done. Grief made Tessa Fontaine run away and join the circus.To be more exact, the sideshow: World of Wonders, the last traditional traveling sideshow in the coun...
Published: 06/21/18
Luke Bryan talks love, acceptance and his growing depth before Tampa stop

Luke Bryan talks love, acceptance and his growing depth before Tampa stop

It’s been awhile since Luke Bryan crashed our party. The country music superstar who has racked up awards hasn’t blessed us ’round these parts in awhile. Bryan last played Tampa back in 2015. "We played many multiple nights at the (MidFlorida Credit ...
Published: 06/21/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 22

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 22

Daryl Hall and John Oates with Train : The legendary number-one selling duo and Train perform full sets and a joint set. Kandace Springs opens. 7 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $45.75-$125. (813) 301-2500; amaliearena.com.St. Pete ...
Published: 06/21/18
Three movies are in the works about Hulk Hogan and Gawker. Will they remember who’s the victim?

Three movies are in the works about Hulk Hogan and Gawker. Will they remember who’s the victim?

Sonny BunchAccording to Vulture, there are three separate movies in the works about the downfall of the New York-based gossip blog Gawker.One is based on the book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue; it will be a...
Published: 06/21/18
Bar review: St. Pete’s Garage is a dive with Pride

Bar review: St. Pete’s Garage is a dive with Pride

Last year’s St. Pete Pride went smoothly, despite some behind-the-scenes drama involving the decision to relocate the parade to the downtown waterfront, rather than the Grand Central District, where it had traditionally been held. After all, the Gran...
Published: 06/21/18
Local craft beer of the week: Beach Slap Pińa Colada Wheat Ale from Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company

Local craft beer of the week: Beach Slap Pińa Colada Wheat Ale from Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company

"Hooray, it’s summer!" exclaimed no Floridians. But if it’s summer proper and not just the usual year-round weather, you might as well embrace the heat and humidity with a trip to the beach, accompanied by some suitably refreshing beers. While you’r...
Published: 06/21/18