The Englewood resident is a bit of a rarity, being born and raised here in Florida, with no plans to leave the area anytime soon, but don’t mistake him for being too provincial – he’s traveled extensively throughout the United States during his time as a competitive paintball player, he and can say he’s seen city life as well as Florida outdoors life. He loves the former, but needs the latter.
Robert was introduced to the outdoor lifestyle early. He grew up in Englewood with his mom and dad, Donna and Bob, brother, Tyler, and sister, Brittany. He has a few family members in Connecticut, but most of his family lives nearby in Englewood.
He said he’s yearning to get on the water, but some of the welds on his 21-foot Hughes need to be looked at. It’s been about six weeks since the last time he was able to hook one, a 100-pound beauty he caught in the Pass.
In the meantime, he can head out to the Cecil M. Webb Public Shooting Range in Punta Gorda to do some shooting – primarily with shotguns because the ammunition’s cheap and you can really let loose with it, as he said.
His mom owned a cleaning business, and his father works in Sarasota for Peterson Manufacturing. But rather than follow in his father’s footsteps he went to work for his uncle, Ed Short, as a landscaper (and, yes, the Shorts married the Longos when the two families came together).
At around the same age, he started playing paintball for the team at B&D Army Navy in Venice. During his three years with that team he competed in tournaments all over Florida, before going to play for Fierce Paintball in Parrish.
With Fierce, he traveled more extensively, again all over Florida, but also to New York, Chicago and California where he and his team played in the Spyder Cup in 2008.
They played “race to seven,” a capture-the-flag-style event with two teams competing on a 100-foot by 150-foot field to grab a flag at the center and get it into the enemy’s bunker. They played until a team reached seven points, with each round lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.
His team took first place and walked away with three Mazda 3s. They sold them back to the dealership and put the money right back into the team.
“It’s expensive,” he said. In an average tournament we’d shoot about 50 cases of paint, and they cost $50 each. There’s also traveling expenses.”
He said that’s also why he hasn’t played in about a year, but added that he’s not finished with it altogether.
During that time he graduated from Lemon Bay High School, went to Charlotte Technical Center and earned an associate degree from Manatee Community College.
His time as a paintball player also led indirectly to his current job. When he took over Fierce Paintball, he learned a lot of the maintenance skills he uses as a park ranger. They closed it because it became too expensive to keep running.
That’s when Robert went back to work as a landscaper for his uncle, and when Ed moved to Maine he took over the business.
Robert said the work was fine, but he wanted something more steady.
“In the summertime you’re slammed and then in the winter there isn’t much to do,” he said.
He said he still gets to enjoy the outdoors as a park ranger, but the main thing he loves about the job is the variety.
“When I was in high school I worked in a mechanic shop,” he said. “Every day it was the same thing – you changed oil. Here, one of the trucks might need an oil change, but tomorrow you might be doing painting, carpentry or some basic plumbing.”
He said he loves working on an island and helping maintain its natural beauty, keeping people from altering the preserve and pulling exotic plants to keep things as natural as possible. He’s found what he thinks are a few coyote tracks on the beach, possibly looking for turtle eggs, and has seen bobcats roaming around the trails and preserve.
He also loves being part of a place with such a rich history. Recently he did some work at the lighthouse and said it was amazing being able to work on something that’s more than 100 years old. He doesn’t mind helping the park service take extra care to make sure the historical places and buildings are as unchanged as possible, such as when ordering true 2-by-6 boards for the job, instead of modern ones, which apparently are not two inches tall or six inches wide.
That sense of history keeps him motivated to help with the 88-acre preserve. He said he hopes that when kids are his age, they’ll be able to enjoy the same Florida, with the same state parks, that he enjoys now.
Though Robert has only been a ranger for five months, he’s no stranger to the island. He said he’s been coming on to Gasparilla Island for many years, buying his annual pass so he could fish.
He just got his full-time position, having been a part-time worker prior to that. Robert said having benefits doesn’t hurt, nor does getting time for vacation. He’s hoping to use his first vacation to go to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which he loves but hasn’t seen in a couple of years.
Robert enjoys the clear water, free diving over the reefs and fishing and camping. The visibility near Boca Grande, he said, usually only gets good when the water’s a bit too chilly.
Robert said his parents took him on trips in the summer to see much of Florida’s natural beauty, from the John Pennekamp park in the Keys all the way up to the Florida Caverns State Park near Tallahassee. Those were some of his most memorable experiences, he said.
Robert said he loves to travel, and he’s seen his share of several more metropolitan areas, but he loves coming back to his home ground to enjoy some of the things he’s been doing for so many years, like shark fishing with Tyler.
He also loves taking his girlfriend, Ashley, and her 2-year-old son, Ricky, to enjoy some of the same things he does. Like Robert, Ricky loves the outdoors.
“He loves doing anything outside,” Robert said. “He basically lives outside.”
However, he said, Ricky is still a little young for fishing.
“I got him a little pole to use,” Robert said, “but he just kept throwing it in the water, and I had to dive in after it.”
So for now they stick to places like the pool or the beach or Leaping Lizards in Venice, which is basically a warehouse full of bouncy houses (and which is surprisingly not marketed to adults).
Robert and Ashley met when a mutual friend accidentally made plans with both of them on the same day. Though it smacks of conspiracy, Robert said he’s convinced his friend honestly screwed up. At any rate, they hit it off because Ashley’s a lover of the outdoors, too. They both love camping, fishing and hiking trails together in places like Lemon Bay Park and Myakka River State Park.
They also enjoy taking his ‘79 CJ or four wheelers out to the Redneck Yacht Club, a meeting of campers, mudders and rednecks of all types. They gather en masse in Punta Gorda for the weekend and play on miles of trails, campsites and areas for mudding. Tyler, a mechanic, started going when some of his coworkers told him about it and introduced Robert as well.
As with many outdoorsmen, Robert likes to learn survivalist skills and entertains himself with shows like “Survivorman.”
“I’d be able to survive without too much for quite a while on a beach, I think,” he laughed, “but I don't think I’d last too long where it’s cold.”
Robert hopes to learn to scuba dive soon, but he has run into what is sort of a classic dilemma for many boaters:
“When I didn’t have a boat I didn’t think it would be worth it to get certified,” he said, “but now that I have a boat I don’t have the money.”
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Notify me of follow-up comments
Click for a larger view