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Silhouettes Profiles Bradley Romp

Bradley Romp

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

Bradley Romp had been healthy his entire life – not just healthy, but athletic, even working as a fitness model at one point – when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago.
He and his wife, Michelle, were celebrating her 40th birthday in Hawaii with friends. As he prepared for a day on the golf course, he lost his balance and busted his toe. So he spent a spa day with his wife and her friend, instead.
“Having MS, that’s the worst thing you could do for it,” he said. “But I didn’t know I had it at the time. Ice baths, mud baths, salt baths – I was just putting my body in shock.”
When he returned home, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, it crept upward, into his lower back, and he experienced pins and needles in his fingers. At first, his chiropractor thought he had a herniated disc. But when it seemed like something more was going on, Romp was sent for an open MRI.
Because it was open, rather than closed, though, the MRI results were “very sketchy, they couldn’t really tell anything,” he said.
A week after that, his symptoms not getting any better, he made an appointment with Florida Orthopaedic, and he was sent for a closed MRI. His MRI was scheduled for a Friday, and he was sent home with the film to bring to his appointment the following Monday. “But there was no way I was going to wait an entire weekend,” he said.
So Romp called over his neighbor, a doctor, to take a look at the film. They hung the film on his kitchen window so his friend could review them.
His friend knew what he was looking at right away – not only because of his professional experience, but because his sister also has MS ¬– but at first hesitated to make a diagnosis in such an informal setting. Eventually, the words came out – Romp had MS.
Romp’s first reaction was, “MS? What’s MS?”
His friend explained is was a disabling disease to the central nervous system caused by damage to the myelin coating around nerve fibers, disrupting the transmission of signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be effin’ kidding me,’” Romp said. “He left, and I cried like a baby.”
Since then – despite the fatigue, vertigo, pins and needles, and pain – he’s turned his attitude around. “I’m a very positive person,” he said.
He serves as a mentor to others with MS and rides in the two-day 150-mile Bike MS: The Citrus Tour each year, raising thousands of dollars and awareness for the disease. “There is no cure for MS at this point,” he said. “But if I can help one person with the disease, one person less fortunate than me, motivate one person, then I’ve done my job.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Romp moved to Tampa in 1980 after high school to attend the University of South Florida.
His entire life, his family had traveled to Florida on vacations to visit friends. It was on one of these trips that he visited USF while in town to see a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and fell in love with the university. “I decided I loved the Florida weather, the beaches and the water, and it spoke to me,” he said. “So I decided to come down here, not knowing anyone. I drove my dad’s van down here, filled with my things, and I’ve been here ever since.”
He studied business management, following in his family’s footsteps. Back home, his family owned a variety of businesses – Danny Boy Farm Markets, Dairy Queen franchises, A&P franchises and tractor companies, to name a few.
After graduating from USF in 1984, he took a job as a trainer for Frank Calta’s health clubs. He was also hired as a fitness model for the Nautilus home workout machine, which was based in DeLand.
Romp decided he wanted to take his life more seriously, though. “I thought, ‘This is fun, but I need to get in the real world,’” he said.
He took a job with Cellular One in 1987, which eventually became AT&T. He worked for the company for more than 18 years. In his most recent role, he worked as the company’s government account manager, handling accounts for various municipalities, including the City of Tampa, as well as the Secret Service, MacDill Air Force Base, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and USF’s athletic department.
He left AT&T in 2005, when it was bought out by Cingular. Romp decided it was time to do something different. So he took a job selling franchises of Mark Lucas’ Club Z Education, an in-home tutoring company, and Acti-Kare, an in-home medical care company. Romp went on to become the owner of the Acti-Kare franchises in the Tampa Bay area.
This career change came 13 years ago, just before he was diagnosed with MS. Both the job and the diagnosis were pivotal for Romp.
“Before that, I had a shield up in me that I was this person who could do no wrong,” he said. “But when I got the news that I was stricken with MS, I had to bring that shield down. Now I look at people and view people in a completely different way.”
He added, “What I do now for a living, I’m very grateful. It’s very gratifying and very rewarding to help people out. I feel like I’m giving back with the business I’m in right now.”
He’s as passionate about working with the MS community as he is about Acti-Kare. He knows firsthand how devastating the initial diagnosis of MS can be. He coached his two sons on a variety of sports teams – football, baseball, soccer – in the New Tampa area before he was diagnosed. He loved this role but was forced to step down when he continued to lose his balance on the field.
Initially weakened by the MS, at first he could barely hold a 1.5-lb. weight above his head, and the equilibrium issues affected his balance when he tried to ride a bike. “And I’d always been an avid bike rider,” he said. “I couldn’t zip up my pants. I couldn’t button my own shirt. I couldn’t function.”
The turning point came when he was unable to play in a charity golf tournament in which regularly participated because he couldn’t hold the club in his left hand. He vowed he would return the following year.
So he got to work, training to strengthen his body and mind. This is his 10th year riding in the Bike MS: The Citrus Tour, a benefit for the National MS Society. Many people are surprised he’s able to make the two-day 150-mile ride with his MS symptoms, but he’s worked hard to get to that point. “I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’ve kind of taken a negative and turned it into a positive.”
Romp has become known as a top fundraiser for the ride. Last year, he raised more than $17,000 he said.
He hopes his story inspires others living with the disease. “Life doesn’t have to stop with a diagnosis,” he said.
He added, “It’s not about Brad Romp. It’s about making a difference for people living with MS. When I’m training, I’m training for all those who suffer worse than me.”

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