The Gasparilla Distance Classic played host to numerous charities and running clubs, including a New Port Richey-based running group.
NPR Running’s founding members, Tammy Carr and Jaana Jala, started the group to help family members and their kids stay active in the New Port Richey community.
“We are an all-level, all-ages, fitness and running group from New Port Richey, Florida, and what we emphasize is that all levels get out there and just keep moving,” Carr said.
Today, NPR Running participates in marathons across the country, which was unthinkable to Carr and Jala given the adversity that they experienced nearly five years ago.
“I was just getting bigger and bigger so I decided it was time to make a life change,” Jala said. “I quit my job, moved to Florida, came down here with a suitcase. But the weather down here is beautiful and it was kind of like jumping off a cliff and changing your entire life.”
Gasparilla is only a local example of the runs that NPR Running participates in. The group travels across the country to triathlons in places like Savannah, Georgia, and Central Park in New York.
“We have racked up, like last year, 26,000 miles,” Carr said. “It’s the equivalent of going around the globe as a group in the miles that we’ve dedicated ourselves that we were going to do.”
After a four year hiatus, full of tragedies and blessings, Trecenia Foster and her boyfriend Anthony are finally back in Tampa. They marked their return by attending the Gasparilla parade and celebration on Saturday.
The couple embraced the memories they made at Gasparilla in the past, and were eager to make more.
“It was fantastic, the streets were filled with people who are celebrating together in unity and fun,” Foster said. “We also got to meet new people from all over the world who we became great friends with.”
Through the four years away from Gasparilla, the couple has had some major reproductive health concerns, which led to three miscarriages. The couple was still attempting to remain open and positive about this and Gasparilla has played a major role in that. It has helped them be able to cope and find comfort in being around others.
“We are pretty reserved and didn’t like being around people.” Foster said. “It (Gasparilla) has opened us up and allowed us to let loose and be open with the community around us.”
Gasparilla has impacted this couple in a positive way and has helped them feel more connected with people as a whole.
With Anthony being active duty in the Army, the couple has spent roughly four years out of the United States. They spent some time in Qatar, a country in the Middle East, which prevented them from attending Gasparilla. Upon returning to Tampa they had their first child.
“We welcomed our first daughter in 2004 after having three losses, we were finally blessed with her,” Foster said.
This year the couple dressed up in the same costumes that they wore four years ago and got a great reaction from the Gasparilla crowd. Anthony dressed up as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and Foster as Sparrow’s partner. However there was one downfall in Foster’s opinion.
“We got stopped over 100 times for photos, I am so glad to be home,” Foster said. “That’s one thing that is annoying about dressing up, but it is fun,”
Overall the couple had a great time. This year they declined to be on floats, but maybe next year they’ll accept the offer.
“It was a blast, we were asked to go on floats too but declined,” Foster said.
Even though some people view Gasparilla as a holiday to make it an all day party Marilyn Pereira wasn’t convinced. Pereira decided to stay away from the madness at Bayshore Boulevard and work a double shift as a server at World of Beer on Saturday. To her there was not much of an appeal to attend the event. It was more important to her to make some money than see the parade.
“I didn’t request off for Gasparilla because I didn’t really even know what it was,” Pereira said. “I just moved here and I didn’t know Gasparilla was today until pretty much everyone I work with requested off.”
Sometimes called the Mardi Gras of Florida; the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates attracts thousands to Tampa every year. The parade takes over the streets of downtown for a majority of the day. People from all over Florida make the trip to celebrate, and most of them are dressed up like pirates.
Pereira worked all morning and through most of the evening. She said she saw an increase in customers during her second shift Saturday evening after the parade had ended.
She described large groups of people of all ages weighed down with beads and wearing fake black beards and hats with giant feathers. She seemed to find the outfits a little silly. Even though she made more money than she had originally expected, she decided it might be worth it to attend Gasparilla next year.
“Yeah I would go. It would’ve been fun to tag along with someone,” Pereira said. “Maybe next year.”
After taking a quiz on the basics of experimental design, USF sophomore Ashtyn Leep watched the teaching assistant explain the different parts of the microscopes they would be using for their biology lab late Saturday afternoon.
Leep was in her second class of the day, having spent the earlier part of the afternoon in a physics lab. While taking classes over the weekend would be less than preferable in any given week, Leep was particularly frustrated on this Saturday.
While she pulled on her white lab coat in the Interdisciplinary Sciences building, her friends were enjoying the general mayhem of the Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Bayshore Boulevard.
“I hosted a pre-gaming party for my friends, and I didn’t go to Gasparilla,” said Leep. “I’m so mad, I almost cried.”
Her plans to attend the parade were complicated last week when a classmate pointed out that event overlapped with her 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. labs. She remained hopeful that she might make it for a brief time, so she did not cancel the party. It became clear to Leep Saturday morning that it would be impossible to make the trip from the university area to South Tampa and be back in time for her classes.
“I got Taco Bell to make myself feel better,” said Leep.
Leep said friends from as far away as Boca Raton began their day imbibing at her house. Some even borrowed her clothes for the parade. She sat on the sideline, preparing to learn about the parts of a microscope instead of the art of bead catching.
“My friend’s dad is a doctor, so I was tempted to have him write me a doctor’s note,” she said. “But I didn’t.”
Freshman Shawna Miller said she has gone to Gasparilla with a big group of friends and family every year until this one – she was also stuck in the lab. Like Leep, she had to live vicariously through pictures and videos her friends posted on social media.
“All of my friends are on Snapchat,” said Miller. “They’ve got their beads on, and I’m in a biology lab.”
Leep still had a bit of fun ahead of her. Her friends planned to return to her house after the parade to continue celebrating Gasparilla – and they owed her some of their treasure.
“They got me beads,” Leep said. “Hopefully. I’ll be mad if they didn’t.”
While people in Tampa found the area’s annual Gasparilla Parade appealing with its copious amounts of alcohol, oodles of beads and massive caravans of floats, Riverview resident Doug Marriott viewed the event in a different light.
Keeping in mind the historical traditions that the parade celebrates, Marriott, 24, says he sees Gasparilla as just another excuse for people to become highly inebriated in today’s version of it, amid all of the swashbuckling participants.
“I personally feel like any connection to the original reason for celebration has just given way to a reason for people to dress like pirates and day drink,” Marriott said.
Marriott was out of town this past Saturday when the parade occurred, but says he wouldn’t have gone regardless, as he had been required to be at the parade several years in a row back in his high school days.
The sheer amount of pedestrians every year devoid of inhibitions was enough to permanently deter him from Gasparilla’s festivities.
“I haven’t gone in the past, nor do I plan on going in the future because I have experienced the negative side of the parade first hand while marching with my high school band,” Marriott said. “I don’t think it’s a great idea, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea either.”
Despite the double edged opinion he has of Gasparilla, Marriott is still intrigued by the concept of the parade, as it has its fair share of irony.
“I think Gasparilla is certainly an interesting tradition,” He said. “I personally find it odd that we celebrate the pirate invasion of our home, considering pirates’ proclivity for murder, thievery and otherwise violent crime.”
The parade still remains a major part of Tampa’s rich culture every January, and for that Marriott does give it credit.
Gasparilla’s seemingly endless surplus of glittery beads and foamy, everlasting fountains of Miller Lite are comparable to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, except with a more Caribbean flavor.
“I think it somewhat contributes positively to Tampa culture. It sets us apart from other cities, it seems to be a unique event in our history,” Marriott said. “The drunk people certainly don’t help much though.”
When pirates invade the city of Tampa, residents party with the swashbucklers as they stagger across Bayshore Blvd. Leading the convoy of invaders was the crew of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
With Seminole Hard Rock as the primary sponsor of the 2016 Gasparilla Pirate Festival, the crew was second only to the grand marshal of the parade this year. Every year Seminole Hard Rock makes it a priority to provide the opportunity for their workers to participate in the parade.
On this year’s float they had members from multiple sections of the hotel and casino, President of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino John Fontana and members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Without a doubt though, the people who attract the most attention on the casino themed float are the Hard Rock Girls, a group of women who represent Hard Rock through promotional events and the annual calendar.
“It’s the most fun I have every year as a Hard Rock Girl” said Jasah Millican, “We get on the float and then we throw beads from start to finish, we dance and have a great time.”
Millican is in her third year as a Hard Rock girl and considers her job, as an ambassador of the company, a privilege.
“As a Hard Rock Girl, it is always your job to be smiling, throwing beads and making sure everyone has good time.” Millican said.
While it may seem that the girls are there to just only entertain, they also make sure to give a personal touch to the parade. This year they met with the parade’s grand marshal, paralyzed Army veteran, Chief Warrant Officer Romulo “Romy” Camargo.
“He gave so much, and lost so much for his country, but he’s still giving back to the vets of Tampa.” Millican said. “Now Tampa is giving back to him…It was a much more personal side of the parade.”
When the Hard Rock girls aren’t going throwing beads during pirate themed parades, they are still raising money for charitable causes, through their calendars.
“As far as benefitting us financially, it all goes back into Tampa.” Millican said, “Why wouldn’t I take a picture for charity, for Tampa, my hometown?”
Along West Platt Street, people were profiting for different causes by offering parking spots in private properties.
Sherryl Cook, employment specialist at the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, was one of them. She started at the parking lot around 9:30 a.m.
The Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind is a non-profit organization that offers rehabilitation programs for persons who are blind or visually impaired.
“It usually picks up around one when the parade is going on,” Cook said.
The idea started 16 years ago when one of her coworkers discovered a group of homeless charging people for using their office parking lot during Gasparilla. They decided it would be a good idea create a fundraiser to collect donations to support the organization.
They agreed to a price match with other nearby parking lots to make it fair. This year they charged 20 dollars for each spot.
There were 50 spots, and Cook said she planned to be there until 2 p.m.
Cooks’ plans for the rest of the day were going home and resting after a long morning at the parking lot.
Henry Sutter, 57, was another Tampa resident who decided to make some profit out of Gasparilla.
Holding a “Best Parking” sign, Sutter started at 9 a.m. working at the parking lot with his wife Patty Sutter, who works as a legal attorney at the Business Law Group, P.A., a community association law firm.
They have done this before for collecting money and donating it to the Boys Scouts or churches. This year they did it if for their own profit.
“This is year is going to my daughter’s college car fund,” Henry Sutter said.
They had 35 spots. They charged 30 dollars per car.
“Once every two or three years, I’m here,” Henry Sutter said. “We rotate turns with other people from the law firm.”