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October 5, 2023 - LIMITLESS Magazine

Building homes for our vets, one kilometer at a time

How MMA helps the Gramatica Family Foundation raise money for mortgage-free homes for combat-wounded veterans.

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Every morning, dozens of joggers rise early to enjoy the ocean air, coastal views, and the still-balmy Florida sun as they lope along the western shore of Old Tampa Bay. However, one morning each spring, several hundred people gather in the community of Safety Harbor to run with a greater purpose. They run to honor the sacrifice of American veterans by raising funds for the Gramatica Family Foundation.

Shining 5K by the Bay medals await race participants

Started in 2012, the foundation enters its second decade with a powerful mission: to build mortgage-free homes for combat-wounded veterans in the Tampa community. These houses are designed to accommodate the needs of vets who have brought significant physical and emotional scars back from battles overseas. By providing stable and comfortable residences, the Gramatica Family Foundation aims to help these vets overcome the financial hurdles of home ownership. This lets them focus on overcoming their injuries, launching post-military careers, and growing their families.

Helping the foundation achieve these goals is the annual 5K by the Bay, a race organized by Marsh McLennan Agency’s local Tampa office. The run, which tracks past the scenic marina of Safety Harbor, started in 2016 as a motivational fun run for local MMA team members and their families. In 2019, the organization expanded its scope, securing local sponsorships, donations, and race fees to raise funds for the Gramatica Family Foundation.

“That was an easy decision,” says Stephanie Newton, who works for the local Brand Manager for MMA. Home to MacDill Air Force Base, which serves as the United States Central Command headquarters, Tampa retains strong ties to active duty and retired military service members. 

“It’s a very patriotic community,” says Newton.

“A lot of businesses want to partner with Gramatica, just because the work they’re doing is so important.”

The name Gramatica will be familiar to fans of the NFL, and everyone in the greater Tampa Bay area knows the foundation’s founder and namesake, Martin Gramatica. Gramatica is a former All-Pro NFL placekicker and member of the Superbowl XXXVII-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He remains an engaged member of the local community years after his retirement from pro football.

Originally from Argentina, Gramatica emigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 9 and grew up only a couple of hours south of Tampa. So, coming home to Florida’s Gulf Coast after college was a dream for Gramatica once he established himself as one of his best kickers in football at Kansas State, where his 65-yard field goal set an NCAA record that stands to this day. 

“I knew Tampa was going to be my home the day I got drafted to the Bucs,” Gramatica tells us from the sidelines of his sons’ high school football practice. The family-oriented athlete has deep roots in this community. As his NFL career took him to other cities to play for teams including the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys, Gramatica insists, “We always knew we were coming back to Tampa.”

Initially, Gramatica developed his big boot playing soccer, and today he serves as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Strikers, a National Indoor Soccer League team. However, he’s still got a leg in American football so to speak, as the color commentator for Spanish-language radio broadcasts of Buccaneers games. 

But another career interest informs his work with the Gramatica Family Foundation. In 2009, the kicker launched the Tampa-based business Gramatica SIPS International. SIPS stands for Structural Insulated Panel Systems, the prefabricated construction panels used to assemble walls, floors, or ceilings. They allow homes to be built faster, than traditional methods and with 50% greater energy efficiency. 

Gramatica first took an interest in SIPS while playing in New Orleans, where the panels became a hallmark of sustainable construction as the city was rebuilding from the damage of Hurricane Katrina. After a chance meeting with veteran J.R. Martinez, Gramatica realized SIPS could play a role in building a home for America’s heroes. 

A U.S. Army vet, Martinez sustained burns over 40 percent of his body while serving in Iraq, before going on to achieve fame as an actor, motivational speaker, and winner of “Dancing with the Stars.”

“We played in a flag football game at the Super Bowl,” Gramatica recalls. Afterward, Martinez told Gramatica about his work with Operation Finally Home, which builds homes for veterans in Texas. Intrigued, Gramatica asked whether he could help them do the same thing for vets in Florida. 

“We just wanted to get involved,” he says, but the initiative quickly took on a life of its own. “It just carried momentum, and we’re still doing it!” 

To date, the Gramatica Family Foundation has built six homes, plus two additional homes in tandem with like-minded organizations, including Operation Finally Home and Habitat for Humanity. Early on, it was easy to meet the foundation’s goal of building at least one home a year because, following the 2008 financial crisis, they could receive foreclosed lots as donations from banks. 

“Now it’s gotten a lot more expensive,” Gramatica says. “If we did it all by ourselves, it would take us at least a couple of years to raise the money to build a house. And we don’t want to wait a couple of years.”

Enter 5K by the Bay, which has raised more than $65,000, despite a couple of down years when the race couldn't be run due to the pandemic. 

Newton says this year’s race was the most successful yet.

“We were able to generate a lot of excitement,” she says, “This year we had a record-breaking number of runners, and the largest donation we’ve been able to give to Gramatica Family Foundation to date.”

In all, 620 runners entered the race. That included a team of 30 representing the University of South Florida and guests of Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, a coastal property that sits on the 5K route.

“Five or six people who were guests of the hotel decided to come and run the race the morning of,” Newton says. Additionally, more than a hundred MMA employees and their families participated, with MMA colleague Shannon Sweeney coming in as the race’s top female finisher with a time of 20:45. Next year, the team expects the number of runners to grow to more than 800. 

“Marsh McLennan Agency, they’ve been an amazing partner for us,” says Gramatica. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if we would have built the last two or three houses.” 

Hear regional CEO, Doug Bishop, talk about 5K by the Bay.

To read more articles, explore our LIMITLESS Magazine.