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Meet the girl behind the Marty St. Louis sign

ST. PETERSBURG — When the call from the Hall came, there she was again.

The girl with the "I (heart) U Marty" sign, in the newspaper again, this time on the cover of the June 27 Tampa Bay Times sports section. She was frozen in time, doing what she always did at Lightning games .

And Kathleen Harrod, through all the years, continues to support Marty St. Louis.

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When it was announced that St. Louis would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year, Times page designer Sean Kristoff-Jones searched the electronic archives for a picture that captured St. Louis' 14-year career in Tampa Bay. He selected one that illustrates a connection with Lightning fans — one connection in particular.

In the photo, St. Louis is hunched over, his stick resting on his knees, the hint of a smile on his face. Behind him is a 15-year-old St. Petersburg girl pressing a sign against the glass at what was then called the St. Pete Times Forum, waiting for St. Louis to notice her.

Times photographer Dirk Shadd did that day as the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup-winning season was dawning. That picture is from a Sept. 21, 2003, preseason game against the Hurricanes. Its archive caption includes a note: "the fan on the left is unidentified."

Not anymore.

"Fifteen years later and me and my Marty sign are still making the Tampa Bay Times Sports section," Harrod posted on Twitter the day after St. Louis received the call from the Hall of Fame on June 26.

She included the hashtag #thegirlbehindthesign.

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"It's just crazy because that picture literally has been in the paper at least 10 times," said Harrod, now 31.

Looking at the picture, Harrod remembers her home-game routine: During warmups she would leave her seat in Section 211, Row A to get closer to the ice while her dad got food.

"My dad and I growing up had season tickets for 10 years, so him and I went to every single Lightning game ," she said. "It was a huge part of my childhood."

Kathleen Harrod, 31, shows off the picture of herself in 2004 with an “I Love You Marty” sign. DIRK SHADD | Times

Harrod's dad, Rick, said he introduced hockey to her and she fell in love with the sport instantly.

"In the early 1990s or late '80s I just became interested in hockey. I lived in Florida my whole life, so I wasn't around it that much until Tampa Bay got a team," said Rick Harrod, 66, who now lives in Brooksville. "(Kathleen) ended up loving the game."

And St. Louis.

Every game, as he warmed up, Kathleen would try to get the same seat by the glass.

"There was a group of ladies every single game … we would all sit and watch him," she said. "He knew the sign. Every game he would come over and stand in front of it and kick the board."

At around 5 feet 8, St. Louis wasn't the biggest player, and that's one reason Harrod liked him.

"He was just always fun to watch. He was a underdog," she said. "He is small for being a hockey player but really fast."

Debbie West, 55, of Dunedin is a Harrod family friend and sat right next to Kathleen and Rick at games for many years.

"(Kathleen) would arrive to the game several hours before, as soon as the doors would open," West said. "She stayed true to (St. Louis) throughout all the years he played."

Kathleen has many St. Louis collectibles, from a signed puck to a game-worn jersey her dad bought at a charity auction for $1,000.

"My dad surprised me," she said. "I came home one day and it was sitting on the dining room table."

For some Lightning fans, their love affair with St. Louis went cold when, during the 2014 playoff push, he successfully lobbied to be traded to the Rangers. Not Harrod.

In 2013, the year she turned 26, she got a Marty tattoo, his number, 26, in Roman numerals on her left wrist.

"I have his number tattooed on me," she said. "It was always my lucky number. It was his number ."

Kathleen Harrod shows off her “XXVI” tattoo for former Lightning star Marty St. Louis. DIRK SHADD | Times

The tattoo? No regrets. The junior class trip to Europe, the one that cost her $6,000 and a chance to attend four 2004 Stanley Cup final games, including the Game 7 clincher? That, she regrets.

"I tried to not go to Europe. People think I'm crazy because I wanted to go to a hockey game," she said. "Looking back, I still would of stayed to see them win the Cup. I could go to Europe any time."

Her other regret: She has never spoken to St. Louis.

She has had multiple chances, the best coming when he walked by her during the Lightning's ceremony to retire his jersey on Jan. 13, 2017. Her heart started racing, and she couldn't speak.

She's hoping to break the ice — and fetch her "I (heart) U Marty" sign out of storage — on Nov. 12 when St. Louis is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

"My instant thought when he was going into the Hall of Fame was I need to figure out a way to get to Toronto," she said.

Brittany Slater has known Kathleen since they were freshmen at St. Petersburg High. She calls Kathleen "the smartest girl in the room when it comes to hockey." Slater also knows the real reason she fell for the sport and then for St. Louis: her father.

"With hockey, it was kind of like their religion," said Slater, who tagged along often on the Harrods' father-daughter hockey outings. "It was unspoken. 'This is what we do. This is how we do it.' And it's been like that since she was a little girl all away through now."

Contact Allana J. Barefield at [email protected] Follow
@allana_b18.

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