July 23, 2024


Health's Like Heaven.

Colorado Springs mourns loss of outdoor enthusiast ‘Chip Monk’ | News

6 min read

For more than a dozen years, Martin Camarata, The “Chip Monk,” peddled clarity from a beefy blue 1993 suburban parked at the edge of The Mason Jar lot on Colorado Springs’ west side.

If they were up for a chat, customers who stopped by his mobile workshop for a windshield repair also got friendly conversation and hard-won insights — about dogs, fly-fishing, hunting, hiking and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, a passion that seemed to underlie all Camarata’s many others.

“Every day, my dad would wake up in the morning, lift weights, and hike at least five miles,” said Camarata’s 22-year-old son, Vastin. “I never saw him eat sweets and he was a vegetarian. He was just an absolute beacon of health as far as exercise and diet are concerned.”

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Vastin Camarata poses for a portrait with his and his father’s German shepherds, Blaze and Engel, at his home in Colorado Springs on Thursday

. Vastin’s father, Martin Camarata, 56, suffered a fatal heart attack on Sept. 22, after a hike to a peak in Section 16 off Gold Camp Road.

Despite his attention to his health, Camarata suffered a fatal heart attack on Sept. 22, after hiking up one of his favorite trails in Section 16 off Gold Camp Road in southwest Colorado Springs. He was hiking alone, slightly off trail, when he collapsed. Vastin said it was a “miracle” that hikers found him and called the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office as soon as they did.

“You can basically see where he worked — and literally see where he died — from here,” said Vastin, sitting on the patio of the Starbucks at 31st and Colorado Avenue on a sunny afternoon earlier this month.

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Vastin Camarata holds a photo of his father, Martin Camarata, next to his father’s blue Suburban at his home in Colorado Springs on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Martin Camarata suffered a fatal heart attack on Sept. 22, after a hike to a peak in Section 16 off Gold Camp Road. (Chancey Bush / The Gazette)

He pointed towards the foothills of the Southern Front Range.

“See the three layers of peaks? The second peak is where he was and he died pretty much instantly … there at the top, around sunset. I’m just so happy he didn’t suffer. He had a beautiful view on the top of the mountain,” Vastin said. “It’s what my dad would have wanted. …”

Martin Camarata

Martin Camarata loved the Colorado outdoors, and especially hiking, rock climbing and fly-fishing.

Someday, though. Not at 56.

All too often, though, that is how heart disease kills.

“It could happen at any time. That’s the scary thing about heart disease,” said Dr. Michael Kim, a physician at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital who specializes in cardiovascular disease.

And a healthy lifestyle, especially for those at a genetic risk, is no guarantee.

Martin Camarata was born in Texas and studied business finance at Texas A&M University and then the University of Houston before making the move north, to a state he’d fallen in love with as a boy.

Martin Camarata

Martin Camarata introduced his son, Vastin, to the outdoors and especially his passions for hiking and fly-fishing.

“My grandpa took him and my grandma up here on a guided fly-fishing trip when my dad was about 10 years old,” Vastin said. “My dad said he decided the first time he came up here he was going to live here when he was an adult.”

As soon as he moved to the Centennial State, Camarata indulged his love for the outdoors, working as a fly-fishing guide for Angler’s Covey for about a decade starting in the 1990s and spending as much of his off-the-clock time in nature as he could.

“He traveled all over, rock climbed all over the state, hiked all over the state, fly-fished every body of water he could. Any body of water in general in Colorado that has trout, he fly-fished,” said Vastin. “He was a dry-fly purist and he really taught me to respect not only wildlife in general but fish. He taught me to conserve our German brown trout and to release any trophy sized fish, to pack out what I pack in. He taught me how to leave the environment how we came.”

Camarata ran his own real estate agency for a while around the turn of the millennium before turning to a career in construction. When he was laid off in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, he decided it was time to “be his own boss,” Vastin said.

Camarata headed to Seattle, for a crash course in rock chip repair, then returned to the Springs to practice what he had learned.

The new business was a perfect fit for more than one reason.

“He’s an environmentalist. He always said, every chip he repaired would be a windshield that wouldn’t be in a landfill,” said Vastin. “My dad was a very free spirit. He loved talking with people and sharing stories and listening to people’s experiences. He loved his job, he loved his customers and he loved people. In a way, he treated everybody as if this was his last day, every day.”

That final day came before anyone expected it to, at a location Camarata liked to recommend to those who shared his love of hiking in the Southern Front Range.

“It’s also just such a miracle that he didn’t take the dogs,” said Vastin, whose father often took his two beloved German Shepherds, Blaze and Engle, to work and along on his many adventures. “His death was very unexpected. There was a family history of heart disease … but my dad hadn’t had any symptoms at all.”

Vastin believes his father’s healthy lifestyle was, in part, an attempt to stave off the family disease. He also believes that his life might have been saved by a simple health checkup that doctors recommend, especially for those of his age who have a family history of coronary artery disease.

Dr. Michael Kim said that risk assessment is complicated, but that awareness — and online assessment tools that factor in lifestyle, age, gender and other existing health factors — can help doctors and patients decide preventative and potentially life-saving next steps.

“Once you get over the age of 40, up into the age of 50, that’s when this tool becomes incredibly important, especially in those who don’t have significant medical history, who are otherwise healthy but perhaps had a family history of coronary artery disease,” Kim said. “Most folks over the age of 40, even if they take good care of themselves, creep into borderline to low risk.”

Vastin can’t know what might have happened, had his father known his risks.

He believes that he would have embraced a legacy that includes a message that might help others. Help them to appreciate the amazing place where they live. And, perhaps, live to appreciate it.

“He was such a kind and talkative man. He gave everything so that I could be happy and prosper,” said Vastin, who is now working in retail at Angler’s Covey and eventually hopes to follow in his father’s path — as a fly-fishing guide, and as The Chip Monk.

His dad had always told him it would be the perfect job to do while he’s finishing college. He could make money, have time to study, and still maintain those ties that not only kept a person in business, but also kept them grounded and connected to what matters.

“He was just such a great role model. I will not let him down,” Vastin said.

His post about his father’s death on the social media site NextDoor drew well over 200 comments.

Vastin personally responded to almost every one.

A celebration of life service is 2 p.m. Sunday at The Space Foundation, 4425 Arrowswest Drive in Colorado Springs.

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