I would like to tell you about a story I read from www.WRAL.com, Raleigh/Durham’s local news agency and saw on the Today Show. This happened July of last year. It’s about six-year-old Lucy Mangum. Lucy and her family spent the summer at the beach in Ocracoke Island, NC. In July, while swimming with a boogie board in just a few feet of water, Lucy was bit by a Tiger shark on her calf and foot. Lucy asked her mother, “Am I going to die? Am I going to walk?” Craig Mangum, her father and an emergency room doctor, knew as soon as he saw his daughter’s injuries that they were serious. Lucy then asked her mother and father to say a prayer. Lucy suffered a 90 percent tendon tear and severed an artery. Lucy’s mother explained to her that the shark mistook her for an animal and didn’t mean to bite her. Lucy replied, “I don’t care that the shark bit me—I forgive him. But I like dolphins way better.” Since I was a kid, I loved the beach and dolphins too. I grew up in Orange County, CA and would always go to the beach. I didn’t get to see very many dolphins, unless I went to SeaWorld or Marineland (which closed in 1987). I was able to open the Fort Myers Station, and this made it a little easier to visit SeaWorld in Orlando. When I read the story about Lucy, the one thing that got me thinking was when she said, “I like dolphins way better.” I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could help this little girl get back in the water if she could swim with dolphins?” Originally, I thought about trying to come up with some Buddy Passes to bring part of the family down to Orlando, and if I wrote a letter to SeaWorld, I thought they could help get her closer to a dolphin than she has before. I told this story to a couple of Coworkers who said they would like to help. We started coming up with ideas of doing a donation or raffle. Then someone suggested that I reach out to Headquarters and see if they would help. I thought to myself, it couldn’t hurt to try. I pitched my idea to Olga Romero in the Communication Department. She loved the idea. After several months of discussing the idea with SeaWorld and coming up with a great package, I called Craig Mangum and told him what I wanted to do for Lucy and his family. I let him know this was my idea and that Southwest Airlines, SeaWorld, and the Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa were assisting to make this possible. I told him we were going to fly the whole family roundtrip to Orlando, FL. The Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa was going to put them up for two nights, and that SeaWorld was going to give Lucy her dream of swimming with dolphins. SeaWorld graciously offered to take the whole family to Discovery Cove. My main goal was to let Lucy live her dream of swimming with dolphins, after experiencing a very frightful accident. I wanted to help her get back in the water and be around something that she loves. On Friday, March 2, I finally got to meet the Mangum family. When I met Lucy, she handed me a handwritten “Thank You card” and gave me a big hug. She showed me her leg where she had been bitten by the shark. It was hard to imagine a little girl that small getting bitten by a shark. I spent most of the day meeting the rest of the Mangum family, Craig and Jordan, Lucy’s father and mother, her older brother Seth, and you two younger sisters, Hazel and Avery. After talking with Craig, he told me that they went back to the beach in October and Lucy wouldn’t go near the water. He continued to tell me that recently, she has gone back into a pool, which is where we spent most of Friday. I t was great to see Lucy play in the water, splashing and having a great time. I also learned that Lucy got in an e-mail from Bethany Hamilton, the young girl who was attacked by a shark and lost her arm. When Lucy asked her how she was able to get back in the water, Bethany told her, you can’t think about what happened, you just have to go do it. Bethany has a foundation called Friends of Bethany. The following day was Lucy’s seventh birthday, and we were going to Discovery Cove. When we arrived, we were met by Emily Winterhalter from SeaWorld’s public relations. She assisted in checking us in and introduced us to June Staley and Jimmy Cruz, who were our hosts at the park. The first thing we did was get fitted for our wetsuits. We then were brought over to our cabana were we had snacks and drinks waiting for us. After settling in, we were off to our dolphin encounter. Lucy was very excited. She couldn’t wait to get in the water with the dolphins. The trainer brought one of the dolphins over to us where we were able to pet and feed it. We got to spend a few more minutes interacting and doing tricks with the dolphin. Then came Lucy’s favorite part—she got to swim with the dolphin. One of the trainers took Lucy to one side of our lagoon and showed her were to hold on to the dolphin. Lucy’s smile was so big as the dolphin took her back to where we were all waiting. The word “excited” doesn’t come close to how Lucy was feeling. We weren’t finished yet. The trainer told Lucy that the dolphins have a toy that they like to play with. It looks like a boat buoy. The trainer showed her a hand signal that made the dolphin swim over and pick up this buoy and bring it back. When the buoy was brought back to Lucy it had a message on it. It said “Happy Birthday, Lucy.” Lucy’s first birthday present from a dolphin. It was priceless. The Discovery Cove staff had asked Lucy’s parents, if she was feeling up to it, would she like to visit a shark? Lucy’s mom and dad asked her if she wanted to do it, she said “Yes.” They told her, “If at any point you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you don’t have to.” She still said she wanted to. So our next stop was a small area where some nurse sharks were. Three trainers met us there and brought one of the sharks up to some steps next to where Lucy was sitting. They told her she could pet the shark if she wanted to. No sooner did they say that, Lucy was petting the shark. I t was a great feeling to see her do that. I know that must have been a very big step for her. The rest of our day, Lucy swam with her family. There was one lagoon that had fishes and rays. There was a lazy river that, in one part of it, you go through this waterfall, and you are in a bird aviary. They even got to meet an armadillo. Lucy had a great time while we were there. When asked how she liked Discovery Cove, she said, “I like it better than Disneyworld.” By the end of the day, everyone was pretty tired. I ended up talking to Craig some more when we got back to the hotel. I told him how great his family was and what a remarkable little girl he had. He told me he couldn’t thank me enough for what I did. I told him it was my pleasure doing it and even better getting a chance to help Lucy with her recovery. I can’t thank all the people enough who made all this possible. From what started out as one person having an idea to help a little girl, turned into three companies coming together to do something very special for her. I personally want to thank our Communication Department for heading this project and getting the family roundtrip tickets on our airline. I also want to thank Elizabeth Bassler from SeaWorld and Discovery Cove for doing such a wonderful job in helping Lucy on her road to recovery, for making her dream come true to swim with dolphins, and for giving her the opportunity to pet a shark. Last I would like to thank the Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa for putting the Mangum family in a three-bedroom suite and taking care of their every need the two nights they were there. And, to the sweetest little girl I have ever met, Lucy, you are an inspiration. Your wonderful smile, your courage to keep moving on, and your big heart. Thank you for allowing me to do this for you.
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