When Mary Dube heard the news, she could barely contain her excitement.
"I was shocked. I said, 'No way,' because I'm such a big fan," recalled Dube. "It really meant a lot that my husband took the time to nominate me."
Dube is a big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Her family…well, they're big fans of Mary Dube.
For that reason, Dube's husband had nominated her for a shot at the Buccaneers' third annual "Mother's Day Makeover" program, which pays tribute to outstanding local moms by providing them with a full day of pampering, a new wardrobe and an evening out with friends and family in honor of Mother's Day. There was a new wrinkle to this year's program, however. For the first time, the Buccaneers searched specifically for compelling stories of mothers who are currently U.S. military members, are mothers of U.S. military members, or are spouses/partners of a U.S. military member and would benefit from a day of pampering and relaxation.
Dube was a perfect fit. Nominated by her husband, a commander in the U.S. Navy, she has gone on lengthy trips to travel by his side during oversees deployments. Dube remained committed to both her family and the Buccaneers through all those travels.
"In Japan, I'd get up at two in the morning to listen online," said Dube. "I'd be screaming my head off, because that was the year the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. I was actually scared to watch, because I didn't want to jinx them because I hadn't watched any games all season. But we won, so it was awesome."
Raised in Orlando, Dube has fond memories of participating in fundraisers at the old Tampa Stadium as a child. It was there that she and her brothers would often sneak down to the tunnel during the fourth quarter and watch their favorite team in action.
On Thursday, Dube had the opportunity to experience the intersection of those two passions – her family and the Buccaneers – in a very memorable setting. Following a full day at the store and salon, she revealed her made-over self at a private dinner event held at the team's facility. While her husband, J.P., smiled from ear to ear, their youngest family member, two-year-old daughter Sarah, quickly weaved in and out of chairs en route to hugging her mom.
"This was awesome, it was just an incredible experience," said Dube. "This was like a dream come true, because I'm such a big Bucs fan, so just being here is great in itself. But then going to get the makeover and the clothes and all that is just amazing."
Earlier that morning, Dube was invited to the team's headquarters where the day began with breakfast alongside the nine other makeover recipients. Following the morning meal, the group departed in a limousine for a local retail store, where each mother was paired with a personal shopper - in this case, a Buccaneers employee or Buccaneers cheerleader - to commence a shopping spree.
"It was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience being able to dress up, just have a whole day off to relax and meet new friends," said Stephanie Puopolo, another mom selected for the program. "It was just wonderful."
Following the shopping spree, the women gathered back in the limousine and headed to a nearby salon, where they were provided lunch by Publix before having their hair and makeup done. Once their hair, makeup and nails were complete, the group reconvened for dinner back at One Buccaneer Place. The made-over mothers were each escorted into the dining hall - this time filled with their families and friends - by Buccaneers assistant coaches. As each mother revealed her new look, the room filled with cheers and applause from the approving guests.
For winning mom Junnell Vasquez, knowing that her 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, had nominated her for the experience made it all the more special.
"As I said to many of the other ladies, you always know what you feel about your children and what you think of them, but you never truly know what your children think of you," said Vazquez. "So it's just a humbling experience to hear my daughter being so grateful, and I know my son has probably added to her letter, too, but it's such a great feeling to know that they love you. Other than just saying, 'Mom, I love you,' there are other words and emotions connected to it."
For Vazquez's husband Fernando, a service member in the U.S. Coast Guard, the nomination couldn't have gone to a more deserving mother and wife.
"She means everything; she's pretty much the backbone of the family," said her husband. "When I'm gone, I depend on her to take care of the house, take care of the kids, our dog. It's hard for me to leave the family, but I know it's harder for them for me to be gone. I go, and then I go with my second family, which are my coast guard brothers and sisters. So we form our family there, versus which she has when I'm gone, which is a handful of friends. She's a very strong woman, very, very strong. And I adore her for that."
On Sunday, families everywhere will join together in honoring mothers. For the Vazquez clan, they will have enjoyed a special head start on the celebration.
"Mother's Day came very early, and I don't know how many entries there were, but to be chosen is humbling," said Vasquez. "It's a blessing, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to share this with other women who are just like me."