South of Heaven’s Brandon Bennett.

Runners and walkers in the 13th annual First State Bank Key Largo Bridge Run will confront a course with a view unlike any other as they climb Jewfish Creek Bridge — the Florida Keys’ gateway. Cheers will swarm participants as they reach the finish line and receive a medal with some unique artwork from a talented tattoo artist out of Key Largo.

This year’s bridge medal features a bit of underwater inspiration by South of Heaven’s Brandon Bennett. He composed the piece similar to how he’d ink a sleeve for someone. Bennett’s love for blue serves as the backdrop for some aquatic life, coral and conch. 

“I thought for this particular type of artwork that it should be ‘tattooey,’” he said.

Bennett’s been coloring for as long as he can remember, going back to his early days. He took up drawing when he was a kid and carried it on to his high school years. He knew he had a talent that others didn’t have in his class, and it showed through the awards he received for his art. 

Following high school, Bennett took up various jobs, which included rust proofing at auto dealerships. The sudden loss of his sister in a car accident, however, propelled him to leave the normal jobs behind in search of something he was passionate about — art. 

“I had some friends who were tattoo artists, and I was an artist, so I was going to give it a shot,” he said. “I knew they’d show me the ropes. I did an apprenticeship under them.”

The 2023 Key Largo Bridge Run medal with ribbon artwork by South of Heaven’s Brandon Bennett. CONTRIBUTED

With a little help from his parents, Bennett was up and running in the mid-1990s with his own tattoo kit. Bennett started in the back of his parents’ Harley Davidson leather apparel store 45 minutes outside of Chicago. Bennett said the store was similar in size to his South of Heaven shop, but filled with racks of Harley Davidson swag. 

Eventually, the racks of apparel went away as Bennett’s Backroads Tattoo business gained steam. With the exception of one rack, Bennett’s booths took over the shop.

Bennett, who regularly vacationed with grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, brought his work to South Florida beginning in 2004 after leaving Chicago for warmer weather. In 2009, he opened South of Heaven Tattoo, located in the Pink Plaza in Key Largo. 

“I lived in Homestead at the time. I was thinking about working in the South Miami and Kendall area. I came down here to the Keys and then I was like, ‘oh sh*t, this is it.’”

Henry Menendez, Key Largo Bridge Run organizer, said he couldn’t think of a better person to provide the medal’s ribbon design this year. 

“Having a talented and well established artist in the Upper Keys provide this year’s ribbon design is a very humbling experience for the First State Bank Key Largo Bridge Run management team,” Menendez said.

Bridge runners will take to the start line on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 a.m. from the access road leading to Gilbert’s Resort. From there, they’ll set out on the course that takes them onto Jewfish Creek Bridge. Runners will turn around and head back over the bridge and return to the access road leading to Gilbert’s where they will reunite with friends and family and enjoy music, drinks and food. The race will end around 9:30 a.m.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.